Fair to say Ross Callachan is not overly burdened by becoming the Hearts support’s latest darling. A fan himself, he knows exactly the emotions coursing through the 1200 people who will pack into the away end at Dingwall’s Global Energy Stadium tomorrow.
Callachan’s start to life with the club he has followed since childhood has been seismic. Two goals in four appearances so far have instantly endeared him to fans already excited by the arrival of one of their own from Raith Rovers.
The 24-year-old plays with a passion and dynamism in midfield which makes him a valuable addition to Craig Levein’s squad. His goal threat is an added bonus, topped off by the fact he celebrates like a Hearts fan scoring for Hearts. His euphoria in the net at Hamilton last month is a prime example. “My momentum took me into the net. I just carried on and threw my arms out,” smiled Callachan, recalling his first goal. “I could just see all the fans going pretty crazy and it was a great feeling.
“I’m happy with the start and how I’ve been playing. I’ve got a couple of goals and it’s always good to get off the mark early doors when you come to a new club. The fans have been great with me. I’ve obviously got a connection with them because I’m a fan myself. All the tweets and messages I’ve been receiving have all been positive. It’s good to get stuff like that – it makes you feel at home.
“Now and then I get stopped in the street. It’s a bit surreal. Some of these kids, you can be their hero. They look at you a bit star-struck but it’s a good feeling. It would happen after games at Raith but now I’m getting it when I’m going shopping or in town looking for clothes. It’s a bit strange but enjoyable.
“It’s all been a bit of a blur. I haven’t really taken a moment to think about it because it’s happened so quickly. It is a cliche but this is a dream come true for me.”
He acknowledges that his infectious style of play has helped with the integration process. Sensible advice from manager Levein also played its part. “That’s just the way I play. I’ve always played like that. It takes me back to being a kid,” said Callachan. “I’ve always played with a freedom and tried to enjoy it. These days, players get coached too much. I play a little bit off the cuff with high energy and I enjoy playing like that.
“Being a Hearts fan, I knew who all the players were before I got here. The manager just said to me to go in and don’t be scared. He told me to play my game and I’d be fine, and that’s what I’ve done.
“The boys have taken to me and now they know what I’m all about. The gaffer didn’t want me to be star-struck because I’d been watching these players for Hearts. He said: ‘Don’t show them too much respect.’ Now they’re my team-mates and I’m loving it.”
Levein admits being pleasantly surprised that Callachan is proving to be more than simply a bag of enthusiasm. “I’ve been thrilled with him. He plays with an energy and a determination that our supporters can relate to,” said the manager.
“I think they see a bit of themselves in him. If they got the chance to pull on a Hearts jersey, that’s what they would do. They maybe wouldn’t play as well as him but they’d certainly show that commitment, desire and will to win. Ross brings that in spades.
“He’s actually surprised me with his quality. I knew he had the physicality but his qualities are a compliment to him. He’s fitted in really well and provided us with something we haven’t had, which is midfield energy to let us get into the box and score.
“He’s a Hearts supporter and you see that from the way he plays. Listen, you’d think he was a Raith Rovers supporter as well because he played the exact same way for them. That’s just his character.”
Hearts will need all of Callachan’s industry and desire tomorrow when they take part in Owen Coyle’s home debut as Ross County manager. Dingwall may be remote in its location but the Global Energy Stadium can be hostile when full of anticipation and excitement.
“I played up there last season for Raith in the cup and we won on penalties. It’s a tough place,” recalled Callachan. “It’s a good wee stadium and I enjoyed playing there. The fans are right on top of you and you can hear all the shouts. It’s like Tynecastle that way.
“Firstly, when you’re away from home then you need to be organised. Most games are a battle and if you win the battle then you have a great chance of winning the game, If you win eight or nine of the individual battles around the park, you’re going to win the game.”
This is the final match before Hearts embark on a long-awaited run of fixtures in Edinburgh. Next weekend, they host Ross County at Murrayfield, before facing Hibs at Easter Road and Rangers at Murrayfield. Then comes a sequence of nine matches, eight of which are scheduled to take place at the redeveloped Tynecastle Park.
For all Levein and his players can’t wait to return to their spiritual home, the backing they have received on their travels has been remarkable to date. More than 2,000 fans have journeyed to each of the games at Kilmarnock, Motherwell and other Premiership venues.
Selling out the away allocation for Dingwall is further evidence that Hearts supporters are determined to help their side through this tough and demanding period away from home.
“The fans travel in huge numbers. It was the same at Hamilton and Dundee. There have been so many away games and they’ve stuck with us,” observed Callachan.
“If we keep playing well and grinding out results, we have a big run of home games coming up. We’ll be looking to win every game at home. If they stick with us now, hopefully we can repay them.”