YOU would not normally regard a few kicks on the legs as the friendliest of welcomes to a new country. But Duncan Watmore took them as a good sign.
Making his debut for Hibernian in the cup defeat by Raith Rovers last week, the 19-year-old was given a robust introduction to Scottish football, and three opponents were booked for fouls on him. It was the sort of situation which often provokes managers to demand more protection for their players, but Watmore himself welcomed it as part of his education.
“It’s a compliment,” he said. “I know I’m doing my job if players bring me down and get booked for it.
“I was aching all over on Saturday night, with ice everywhere. I took a sore one on my foot, in particular. I’ve been kicked about a bit – and it’s about getting used to it.
“There’s always people complaining about too many fouls being given for hardly any tackling, and I don’t really mind the physical side of the game. It’s part and parcel of how you play, especially the winger who tries to beat people. If you’re doing that successfully, it’s almost a satisfaction if you get kicked about.
“They did get booked three times, so I felt like I was protected. I suppose I’ll just have to see if it continues. If it does, it won’t bother me. As long as I’m doing my job for the team, I don’t care if I get kicked.”
Hibs manager Terry Butcher reckoned Watmore was only one of two players – Sam Stanton being the other – to do his job to a satisfactory level in the 3-2 loss. It was an auspicious start to life at Easter Road for the Englishman, who is on loan from Sunderland for the rest of the season, but he insisted his own form was no consolation for the result. “Obviously it’s nice to hear that the manager is happy with my performance, but you win and lose as a team,” said Watmore. “I was just as much to blame for defeat as anyone else in the side.
“I was just as gutted as everyone else. It was a real shame that we couldn’t get the win.
“It wasn’t half a baptism of fire. It was awesome to be out there in front of 10,000 people in that stadium, and really enjoyable from a personal level. But as a team it was hard to take.
“I knew there would be a big reaction, and a deserved one. We deserved that reaction because we weren’t good enough.
“And I knew it would happen because of the history this club has since 1902, as well as having reached the last two cup finals. They’ve obviously done well in getting close, so to go out in that fashion is very disappointing. So I was expecting a reaction.”
Before joining Sunderland last year, Watmore played for Altrincham in the Conference North, the sixth tier of English football. A relatively slight figure, he learned a lot there about how to deal with the attentions of bigger, tougher opponents.
“Believe me, I got kicked more there. But it was a reintroduction to the physicality of first-team football. And it’s a really good thing to experience, the physicality of this league, the fact that they’re always willing to put a tackle in. I don’t mind getting kicked about the park. As a winger, you have to get used to it.”
Indeed, as his aim is to be more ready for first-team action when he returns to the Stadium of Light, Watmore seems prepared to welcome every experience, good or bad, as a chance to grow as a player. “I don’t think I’m ready for the Sunderland first team,” he explained. “For my development, the next stage was definitely to come and get first-team experience – I don’t think I would have got that at Sunderland.
“It’s a stepping stone, and I’m really glad that I’m here. It’s a good club to get experience at, and I’m very grateful and lucky for that. It’s all part of my development. Everything I learn here will make me a better player.
“First-team experience is the main thing,” he continued when asked what he was looking for during his time at Hibs. “I had that at Altrincham, but it was at a lower level. And there’s a difference where each game you’re working for three points. At under-21 your development is more important: here it’s about the results. It’s a good thing to experience, because you’re constantly pushing the boundaries to get results.
“I want to learn a lot, and get better with my end product – crosses. And I want to chip in with a few goals, and get bigger and cope with the physicality even more.”