Dylan McGowan returns to Edinburgh to marry his Scottish fiancée this summer. A more permanent stay cannot be discounted, for the Australian defender openly admits he would explore another career move to the Ladbrokes Premiership.
His contract at Adelaide United ends in a few weeks and the prospect of moving back to Europe is tempting. Scotland, where he met partner Rebecca during six years at Hearts, holds natural allure. He left Tynecastle in 2014 but will be back in his second home to tie the knot in May. Many former Tynecastle team-mates will be wedding guests.
Top of Australia’s A-League, Adelaide want the 24-year-old to sign a new deal. They have much to offer, not least the fact head coach is the former Barcelona and Spain icon Guillermo Amor, who had a brief spell with Livingston in 2003. The United board have put a contract to McGowan but he hasn’t signed as yet. In the back of the player’s mind is hope that footballing adventures on the other side of the world may not be over.
“I met Rebecca when I was 19 and playing for Hearts,” he said. “I’m always going to have that link to Edinburgh, to Hearts and to that time in my life. There will be a big Hearts link at my wedding because all my ex-Hearts boys will be coming and it will be good to catch up with them. I’m hoping to get back early enough to take in a game at Tynecastle as well.
“My contract ends this year. Adelaide have already offered me a new one but I’m not 100 per cent sure what I’m going to do. The UK and Europe is a window I’m always looking to get into. If I can, I will jump at the chance. I wouldn’t close the door on anything. I’m happy at Adelaide and enjoying my football but if something was to pop up in Scotland I would definitely look at it. I’m open to offers from anywhere. Rebecca is Scottish so I’m always going to have that link to Scotland.”
McGowan’s time at Hearts was the most turbulent in the club’s history. He arrived aged 16 in 2008 from the South Australian club Para Hills Knights, following a trail blazed by older brother Ryan. Remarkably, his senior debut came at Anfield in a Europa League tie against Luis Suarez, Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher in 2012. At the end of that season, financially-ravaged Hearts went into administration.
McGowan’s final season in maroon ended in relegation after a 15-point deduction and signing embargo were imposed. He was released by incoming director of football Craig Levein and head coach Robbie Neilson and has watched his former club’s resurgence from afar. “I wouldn’t say I’m envious. I was just privileged to play for such a big club,” he said. “I look back on my time with huge pride because I was able to play for Hearts. Even if it was at a bad time for them, it was an excellent time for me personally getting to play for a club that size with that history.
“Hearts are flying and I’m really happy for them. I’ve kept a close eye on things there and last season was amazing for them. I don’t think they were favourites to win the Championship but they went up in a canter. I’m really good friends with Danny Wilson and I kept in good contact with him throughout last season. He was filling me in on how much better the club is run, they had a new gaffer and he’s got them playing. I’m thrilled for them.
“This season, they’ve obviously taken to the Premiership again like a duck to water. They’re sitting third and selling out the stadium every week so it’s great. The move to Adelaide came at the right time for me. We’ve got a good squad here and we’re pushing up the league. Last year we won the cup and finished third.”
That led to an inter-continental play-off last month against the Chinese club Shandong Luneng Taishan – former employers of McGowan’s brother – for a place in the Asian Champions League. Adelaide lost 2-1. “We should’ve probably taken it to extra-time. We had enough chances to score in the second half and force extra-time. We can get an automatic qualifying spot for the Asian Champions League if we finish in the top two this season, so that’s what we’re looking to do.”
It seems everywhere McGowan has gone in his career, Ryan has had an influence. Breaking into the Hearts first team in his teens was made more difficult by the fact his sibling was already a Scottish Cup-winning legend. “That probably made it a bit harder for me because you couldn’t break into the team at your own pace. You came in with a ready-made expectation of what you should be like, how you should interact with fans and players on the pitch. We’re different people and different players.
“Being Ryan’s brother gave me a good rapport with the fans to begin with. He’s obviously very highly regarded there. To break through and play in the team at the same time as him was great. We’re the only brothers to do that since the Robertsons and it’s something we can look back on with a lot of pride.”
Memories are now flooding back into McGowan’s thoughts. “I think he [Ryan] was happy I was no good at right-back, so I didn’t take his place,” he laughed. “When I broke into the team I was playing in the middle of midfield and thoroughly enjoying it. He was at right-back and at the peak of his powers for Hearts. It was a great time to be playing together. The team was doing well and we had a lot of experienced players. I learned a lot that first season.”
It wasn’t all plain sailing in the dressing-room, however. “Anything he did, I copped stick for it. That worked the other way as well, to be fair. We had to stick together. It was like that on the field as well. There were a few games where Ryan was getting into bust-ups and I was the first one in to help. Then I was picking fights I’d no chance of winning so he had to step in. It was fantastic to play together and a real proud moment for the whole family.”
The brothers shared an unbridled passion for Edinburgh derby matches against Hibs. This actually stemmed from their upbringing in Australia. Their parents are ex-pats from Glasgow who taught their sons all about footballing rivalries in Scotland’s biggest cities.
“You’ll have seen by the way me and Ryan tried to play against Hibs that we really enjoyed the rivalry. When we were in Edinburgh, Hearts were right on top,” said McGowan. “I don’t think we lost too many at all. We were both really focused on winning games for Hearts, especially the derbies. They’re hugely important to the players and the fans.
“We definitely had an understanding of how important these games were, about the build-up and the rivalry and the history between the two teams. What helped a lot was coming through the under-19s at Hearts. Darren Murray was the coach and he certainly made you aware of what the games against Hibs meant, even at that level. We definitely knew what to expect and that really helped us when we stepped up to the first team. We got a chance to taste the atmosphere and really tried to make a name for ourselves in those games.”
The fervid intensity of a packed Tynecastle is one of the things McGowan misses most. “The stadiums are really good over here, really new, and there are quite high crowds of 10,000 or more. There are no real small teams but the atmosphere is definitely not the same as Tynecastle on any given day. Playing at that venue, with the fans so close, was a really unique experience for me. On derby day, there’s no place like it. I was really envious of the boys watching the 2-2 game there in the cup recently. It looked like a great game and one I’d loved to have been a part of.”
Maybe he will one day run out of that tunnel again. Some big decisions lie ahead over the next few weeks.