Things have changed since Conor Sammon last earned a living in Scottish football and he believes that is best illustrated by the fact that several clubs will start the new season believing they can challenge at the top of the table.
It is more than 30 years since any team outwith the Old Firm finished top of the pile but the new Hearts striker says he sees no reason why that situation could not be revised this term.
“Absolutely! From a neutral point of view, looking on from down south, it was fantastic to see Aberdeen pushing and Hearts pushing so close [last term],” said the 29-year-old, who has spent the past five years in England.
“When people look at it on paper, especially down south, they think that Celtic or Rangers are going to win the league year in, year out. So, it was really good to see that the other clubs have stepped up, Hearts being one and Aberdeen being another, and there is no reason why we can’t do the same this season and push them.”
In their first season back in the Premiership, Hearts had said they were targeting a top six place. In the end they wrapped up third and unsettled those who finished above them. Which has imbued Sammon with the confidence that even more can be achieved throughout the coming campaign.
He added: “Definitely. For us as players, and for me coming into the group, you are just looking to improve the club from last season. Absolutely, we want to be pushing to try and improve on that and to do well in Europe and go on a good run. That’s my objective and I have no doubt that everyone at the club has the same objective.”
And the fact that big names are again being lured to these shores is something he says should excite and motovate everyone.
“It’s fantastic to see big names coming here. You want to test yourself against the best. Brendan Rodgers’ teams play good, attacking, technical football and he showed that from his time at Swansea and Liverpool. I’ve no doubt he’ll do the same at Celtic and that will only help us to improve. That will push us to be as strong as we can. You want competition to be fierce and tough. It’s a real positive to see Scottish football on the up and there’s a feelgood factor about Hearts as well.”
Sammon’s links with Hearts go back a long way, given it was the club’s record league goalscorer John Robertson, at the time the Derry City manager, who spotted his early potential and signed him from University College Dublin. Although he left the club soon after, Robbo had no qualms about recommending Sammon to another Hearts legend, Jim Jefferies, who was managing Kilmarnock at the time.
“I know Robbo from my time at Derry City. He signed me in the close season but by the time I came to the club he had left which was an unusual scenario. But, from my time at Kilmarnock, Jim Jefferies used to bring in Robbo to work with the strikers and I’m excited at the prospect of seeing him again.
“He was a prolific striker. I know I can pick up tips from his him – just as I will from assistant manager Stevie Crawford,” said the Republic of Ireland international, who netted 18 goals in 27 games in his final season at Rugby Park, catching the eye of a number of sides down south before finally succumbing to the advances of Wigan Athletic and a shot at the English Premier League.
“In front of goal [Robbo] taught me to be calm. It’s an easy thing to say – relax – but it only comes from habit and doing it on a daily basis. You can’t go into a loud stadium and click your fingers. You have to practice. He did that and taught me that. I’ll keep practising it day in day out and I’ll look to take it into games.”
“It’s a fantastic club with a great fanbase – I heard we have sold over 12,000 season tickets and that shows how excited the fans are and I’m excited about getting stuck in.”