Halting Jake Mulraney during Inverness training sessions caused Brad McKay untold grief. So much so that he asked coaches to stop deploying him directly up against the rampant Irish winger. He is sad seeing Mulraney depart for Hearts but won’t miss the training-ground torment.
Images of Wile E Coyote hurtling bleary-eyed to the desert floor as nemesis Road Runner speeds off into the distance aren’t far off the mark. The only thing missing from Mulraney was a high-pitch “beep beep” as he left McKay for dead. A former Hearts defender and still a keen supporter of the Edinburgh club, McKay is excited about what his team-mate can bring to Tynecastle Park next season.
Hearts agreed a swap deal with Inverness to take Mulraney to Edinburgh and transfer midfielder Angus Beith to the Highlands. McKay explained how, on his day, the winger is unplayable due to blistering pace. He recalled suffering first-hand and resorting to extreme measures trying to stop him.
“I’ve said to the coaches: ‘Stop putting me one-v-one with him. You’re going to ruin ma heid for Saturday,’” laughed McKay. “I can’t stop him, I try everything and then you end up fouling him.
“In training, I’ve tried every trick in the book to try and stop Jake but, honestly, he’s absolutely lightning. His trademark is he slows you down. I’m a big centre-back playing out at right-back. When he comes at you in training, he’ll slow down and then shift the ball down the line 15 yards. You’re then scrambling trying to get back and get a foot in to stop him.
“In games, I’ve played right-back all season with him in front of me and I’ve been eager to get forward. I was trying to overlap him, but then I was getting screamed at to stay away from him and leave him one-on-one with the defender. He is just that quick. I’ve never in my life played with anybody as quick over 15 or 20 yards. On his game, I think he is unplayable.”
McKay isn’t the only one to have endured a torrid time at the hands of Mulraney. “When we played Rangers he gave Lee Wallace an absolutely torrid time, and you know how good Lee is one-on-one. I’ve seen him do it to Kieran Tierney as well. All you can say is give him the ball and that’s what every coach says. If he’s at it, you give him the ball.
“He uses both feet and can play left wing or right wing. If he finds that consistency, which is every winger’s problem, then he will be brilliant for Hearts. I believe he’s quick enough to play in the English Premier League. He just needs to find that consistency.”
A two-year contract at Tynecastle Park offers 22-year-old Mulraney a second chance at the big time. Born in Dublin, he played at youth level for Nottingham Forest and Queens Park Rangers without making the senior breakthrough.
Inverness brought him north in 2016 and he has very much been regarded as a mercurial talent during his two years at the Caledonian Stadium. A week-long trial at Riccarton last December was the catalyst for his latest move.
“He went down to Hearts on trial and he was supposedly unbelievable,” said McKay. “Jamie Walker and Jack Hamilton spoke to me before he went there and asked me who he was and what he was like. At the end of the week a couple of the boys messaged me back saying: ‘By the way, he’s some player.’
“Hearts is a great platform for Jake. He was at QPR before but, with the facilities Hearts have, he will get every bit of help and coaching needed. Up in Inverness, it’s a bit old-fashioned in some ways but Jake has dealt with that. The conditioning and training facilities he will get at Hearts is exactly what he needs.”
Provided he can produce form on a consistent basis, he may be exactly what Hearts need, too. A lack of panache and creativity hindered Craig Levein’s side throughout last season after Sam Nicholson headed to America and Jamie Walker joined Wigan Althletic.
Mulraney is not expected to fill their voids entirely on his own but he has been signed as a player with potential. Levein sees him as a project which, in time, could prove to be a sound investment.
He is expected to begin as a squad player at first-team level but McKay is convinced he will make an impact without too much delay.
“I came down to watch Hearts in a couple of derbies last season and they were just lacking that wee spark – just somebody to make something happen and get the fans off their seats,” said McKay, who left Tynecastle three years ago. “That’s what they will be in for with Jake. He is just what they need and, on his day, he is mesmerising to watch. I just stand behind him and watch him skin people.”
McKay also believes Mulraney will settle in at Riccarton without too much difficulty. A keen churchgoer, the Irishman possesses the kind of humble outlook which Hearts have been keen to enlist since owner Ann Budge took control four years ago.
“Jake is a brilliant guy and very religious. He goes to church every Sunday. I stay next to a church in Inverness and you see him walking there every week. I’m rooting for him to do well at Hearts because he’s a lovely guy as well.
“He messaged me asking where is best to stay in Edinburgh. I replied: ‘It will depend what wages you’re on. I’ll tell you after that.’ I just said to him to stay focused and concentrated and he will be fine. We all hope he is a massive hit at Hearts.”