Scott Gallacher has played just 23 competitive minutes since becoming a Hearts player last summer. Indeed, a second-half substitute appearance in the opening-day win at Rangers in August stands as his only outing – friendlies and under-20s games aside – since turning out for Airdrieonians at Stranraer in November 2013.
Needless to say, the 25-year-old is like a coiled spring, desperate to capitalise on a rare window of opportunity at the end of his team’s title-winning season. Neil Alexander, Hearts’ first-choice goalkeeper, has undergone surgery on a broken finger and won’t play again this season, meaning Gallacher is likely to share goalkeeping duties with 21-year-old Jack Hamilton for the last three matches of the campaign, starting with today’s visit from Raith Rovers.
The former Rangers goalkeeper feels ready for action and is excited by the prospect of finally starting a match for the first time in 17 months. “Hopefully I can get a wee chance between now and the end of the season,” said Gallacher. “I’ve been waiting for it all season so it would be great to be involved.
“I feel sharp. I’ve always felt sharp because when you’re not playing, you actually do more training than you would if you play because you don’t need recovery. I’ve played a few games for the 20s as well.”
Gallacher’s main problem this season has been the consistent form of 37-year-old Alexander, allied to the fact that, when he did get his chance earlier in the season following an injury to the veteran in the aforementioned match at Ibrox, he, too, suffered an untimely injury ahead of the first Edinburgh derby of the season. That paved the way for young Hamilton to instead grab the gloves for three games running, while Lee Hollis and Bryn Halliwell were brought in on short-term deals to provide cover.
“I was buzzing for it when I got on at Rangers because it was against my old club and I got on and helped us win the match,” he recalls. “It was one of the best feelings in the world but then I got injured a few days later, just before the derby. It was really frustrating and knocked my confidence but I’ve kept working hard in training. I try my best at every possible time – all I can do is be available for selection whenever I’m called upon.”
Since returning in September from that early-season broken jaw, Alexander has clocked up 14 clean sheets and generally looked assured. As a result, Gallacher has never threatened to dislodge his goalkeeping coach from the first XI.
“Neily’s such a consistent goalie,” said Gallacher. “That’s one of his main strengths. He’s always been a good goalkeeper and even in training he’s top-notch. His coaching’s been fantastic this season.
It’s good working with him. I’ve known him since Rangers when we were just team-mates. Now he’s moved up to the coaching staff, I’ve got to give him extra respect. His coaching and his training is really good. Although we both want to play, we get on well. He’s good at keeping my spirits up.”
Gallacher turns 26 this summer, but has made only 52 first-team appearances in total since first cutting his teeth while on loan at Cowdenbeath from Rangers almost seven years ago. He is aware of the need to start playing more regularly, but insists he has no desire to leave Hearts.
“That’s me 25 now, so I’d like to be playing as many games as I can,” he said. “I’ve not really thought about going out on loan. I’ve not spoken to the manager about my situation. I’m happy here just now.”
Others at Hearts have endured similar frustrations to Gallacher this season. “There are other boys here in the same boat as me who haven’t played as much as they would have liked,” said Gallacher. “That’s the downside of having a big squad. There’s obviously going to be people unhappy but you just have to try your best in training to be happy so that you’re in a good frame of mind if you get called on to play. The flip side of the fact so many people can’t get a regular game is that we’re doing well and we have a good squad.”
The consolation for Gallacher is that he has been part of a buoyant dressing-room and been able to watch some eye-catching football from the sidelines. “The team spirit’s been great,” he said. “We went on a really good winning streak and kept a lot of clean sheets, so everybody’s been really positive in the changing room. We’ve had a few setbacks in the last couple of weeks, but we’ll try and put that right against Raith Rovers.”