Hearts’ Jake Mulraney reflects on what a difference 12 months can make
Jake Mulraney’s current mood is in stark contrast to that which engulfed him in his early months at Hearts.
The 23-year-old Irish winger is full of confidence after a strong run of form to finish last season and with the additional security of a contract until 2022, he is adamant that there is plenty more progress to be made as a footballer. Excitement abounds in his personal life as well, with a new baby due in September.
This sense of contentment and optimism for the future is all a far cry from the grim days of last autumn and winter when Mulraney was being criticised by Hearts supporters and feared he would never be good enough to live up to the high expectations at Tynecastle.
“I imagined that I’d be out of here!” said Mulraney, reflecting on those mentally-testing early months at Hearts. “It was a really slow start to my time at Hearts. It was a really hard time and was tough on the both of us [Mulraney and his partner Aoife] because I wasn’t really feeling like myself. When football is going badly, it makes things tough at home – especially when it’s just the two of us. Whereas, if I was back home in Dublin, I’d be able to spend some time with my mates, unwind and get away from football, clear my mind.
“In Edinburgh, I was coming home, doing nothing and then straight back to football the next day. Football becomes your life and that was a hard time in my career. I had a chat with the manager and basically asked him straight: ‘What do I need to do to get in the team?’ I did a lot with Foxy [Liam Fox], Jon [Daly] and Austin [MacPhee] to improve myself and get to the level I needed to be to get game-time.
“I’m a Christian, a Catholic lad, and prayer was probably the main thing that helped me through it. My faith in God and praying constantly, no matter what happened, and believing in myself.”
The tide has since turned in Mulraney’s favour and now he is one of the most popular players among Hearts’ support. “It is nice to get a positive reception from the fans and when it’s the other way around, it does affect you,” he said. “Any footballer who says that doesn’t matter is lying. It just does. I got stick for ages when I first arrived - rightly so, I suppose, because I didn’t do the business at all. I got what I deserved, albeit it sometimes went a little bit too far. If you are not doing the right things, not doing your job, then you hear about it from the fans. I still feel like I have a lot to do in terms of earning the right to be here. I feel I have a long way to go but I am in a much better place than I was a few months ago.”
The announcement of Mulraney’s new contract on Tuesday was swiftly followed by a brilliant match-winning delivery to set up Craig Halkett against Stenhousemuir on Wednesday. With his future secure, the winger intends to continue flourishing. “It is definitely a boost to my confidence and it’s a bit of security for me and my girlfriend,” he said. “She is expecting a baby in two months and it is really important to have that clarity about our future. It makes her feel more secure and happy, which is really important to me. This feels like home for me now. We are settled and, once you know that, it’s a really nice feeling.”