Robbie Neilson backs new Hearts signing Barrie McKay to earn Scotland recall

Robbie Neilson believes Barrie McKay could earn a Scotland international recall if he recaptures peak form at Hearts.

Saturday, 11th September 2021, 6:00 am
Robbie Neilson is preparing Hearts for the Edinburgh derby.

The Edinburgh club’s latest signing is poised for a debut against Hibs on Sunday despite lacking fitness after more than three months without regular training.

McKay won his only Scotland cap during the height of his Rangers career in 2016 and Hearts manager Neilson is convinced the winger can return to the national squad.

“I certainly think he has the ability to do it. Coming here and getting the stability of playing regularly will give him a right good chance. When Barrie is at the top of his game he is one of the best in this country,” said Neilson.

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“I would think the lure of a potential World Cup would be there for a lot of the players in this league and especially in this club. We speak about it at times – get yourself in that squad and hopefully get to a big tournament if we can get there.”

McKay and Cameron Devlin are both pushing to make their first appearances in maroon in the derby at Tynecastle Park. Defenders Stephen Kingsley and Michael Smith are also available after overcoming illness and a minor injury respectively.

Smith was substituted after 68 minutes of Northern Ireland’s midweek World Cup qualifying tie against Switzerland but reassured Neilson that he is fit. “Michael came off but it was just a tightness and I’m sure he will play on Sunday. Stephen Kingsley has trained for two weeks now,” confirmed Neilson.

With different options available in every position – Hearts have signed eight players in total since the end of last season – it is difficult to guess Neilson’s exact starting line-up for the first Premiership Edinburgh derby for more than 18 months.

In attack, he can pick any three from Josh Ginnelly, Ben Woodburn, Liam Boyce, Armand Gnanduillet, Gary Mackay-Steven and McKay.

“Joe Savage [Hearts’ sporting director] and I spoke at the start of the window about what we needed in the team and what we were trying to do with the team,” explained the manager.

“These attacking areas are key and you can’t run a whole season with two – you need four, five maybe even six. They pick up injuries off tackles, contact injuries like Gary who has been struggling for the last few weeks and Josh Ginnelly is the same.

“You need guys who can come in and play the 60 minutes and someone else does the 30. Thankfully we’ve managed to get it done.”

Insisting it does not matter how three points are garnered against his club’s biggest rivals, Neilson said his team will be ready to adapt. “For me it’s just finding a way to win the game. If you have to play at 200mph then you do that,” he said.

“If you get the time to pass then you have to have the strength to pass. We have spoken about that this week – when the moment comes to play then we have to play. But when the moment is there to be physical then you have to do it because that’s part and parcel of the derby.”

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