Ross Callachan’s season has already exceeded expectations, but the Hearts midfielder would love to crown it with Scottish Cup glory.
When he kicked off the campaign with League One side Raith Rovers, he could never have envisaged that he would soon be sharing a dressing-room with fully-fledged internationalists like Christophe Berra, Aaron Hughes, Steven Naismith and Kyle Lafferty at the club he supported as a boy.
Five months since making his big move from Kirkcaldy to Tynecastle, the 24-year-old Bonnyrigg boy finds himself part of an on-form Hearts team with aspirations of Scottish Cup glory. A comprehensive 3-0 win over St Johnstone at the weekend helped Craig Levein’s side set up a quarter-final tie away to Motherwell. Victory at Fir Park early next month will take Hearts back to Hampden for the first time since the League Cup final defeat by St Mirren five years ago.
“It’s a massive boost for everyone to be in the last eight,” Callachan told the Evening News. “The boys are buzzing. We haven’t done too well in the Scottish Cup recently so it’s important for us to get into the later rounds. We’ve had a couple of tricky ties on paper against Hibs and St Johnstone so we’re delighted to be in the quarter-finals.
“As a Hearts fan so I know what the Scottish Cup means to this club. I was at the final against Hibs in 2012 and it was a great day for the club. I’m happy to be here helping the club now and hopefully we can progress to the semis and then the final. If we can get back to Hampden, it’s a big day out for the fans, so hopefully we can do it and give them something to cheer about.”
Hearts have lost only one of their last 15 games in all competitions and have kept clean sheets in ten of their last 12. After struggling to find the net earlier in the season, they are now starting to score more heavily. Momentum is building. “Progressing in the cup keeps everything bubbling along nicely,” said Callachan. “Our league form has been good apart from the Celtic game. We’re keeping clean sheets and we’re starting to score a few goals so hopefully we can keep that going in the league and the cup. The back five or six, regardless of who plays, have been outstanding.
“They’re very experienced, especially Hughesie and Christophe. Soapy (John Souttar) is learning every day. He’s brilliant for his age. You have confidence going into each game when you know you’ve got those three behind you. We know we’ve got good quality attacking players who can score goals, so we know if we’re keeping the back door shut we’ve always got a chance of winning games.”
Hearts found the perfect combination of being solid at the back and ruthless in front of goal during Saturday’s 3-0 demolition of St Johnstone. “It was good,” said Callachan. “We didn’t start the best but once we got the first goal, we were confident at half time that we’d go on and get more. It probably wasn’t a great spectacle to watch, but I thought we played some good football at times. I thought we played a lot better than the previous week. Off the ball we worked really hard and we caught them on the break for our goals. In the past, Hearts have struggled against St Johnstone but that’s us beaten them three times in the past few months, which is great.”
Callachan was one of several Hearts players who shone against Saints on Saturday as he made his fourth start in five games following a couple of months in which he was either on the bench or injured. He is confident that he is now rediscovering the level of form that helped endear him instantly to the Hearts support when he scored in two of his first three matches for the club.
“I felt like I came in and did reasonably well at the start and chipped in with a few goals,” he said. “Then I went out the team for a bit, which was fair enough, but I just kept working hard and got myself back in. I’ve had a few injuries which has been frustrating but I’m hoping I can stay in the team now and keep performing well. Energy and enthusiasm is a big part of my game, but I just want to keep learning and keep improving.”
He has plenty players to learn from, with several experienced internationalists in the Hearts squad. “If you’d told me at the start of the season that I’d be sharing a dressing-room with Kyle Lafferty, Steven Naismith and Christophe Berra and guys like that, I wouldn’t have believed you, honestly,” he said. “These guys have been there and done it at the top level in England, but they’re just normal people. They’re really humble. They’re good guys to have in the changing room. I’ve felt like I’ve been part of the team since day one because they boys have been brilliant with me. When I came in they knew I was a Hearts fan, and there was a bit of banter straight away. I’ve felt like part of it from the first day of training – it’s been great. It’s been crazy, but I’m loving it.”