HEARTS received a welcome reminder of happier times this week when Ryan McGowan reported for training. The Australian, who left Tynecastle for Chinese club Shandong in January, was back for a couple of days – both to keep up his fitness in preparation for a friendly against Costa Rica, and to catch up with his younger brother Dylan, now a regular in the Hearts first team.
McGowan senior was joking yesterday when he tweeted that he was “delighted to be in the squad” for today’s match at Pittodrie and appended the hashtag “trialist”. But there is no doubting the serious affection he still has for Hearts, and the concern he has felt for their financial plight.
“I wanted to come back and be involved with the guys after everything that has gone on,” he explained before training at Riccarton on Thursday. “I’ve obviously been watching very closely, especially with Dylan still being here. Having left halfway through the season I wanted to keep tabs on how the team got on after I left.
“It was a very sad day when the club went into administration. Watching on Facebook and Twitter and seeing people who had been working with me for the last five or six years having to lose their jobs, it was hard to look at from afar. It was just a sad state of affairs really.
“I didn’t really want to leave when I did go, but it was a big cash injection for the club at that time. So while I left with a heavy heart, I did feel that I’d done my bit to repay the club for all they had provided me for the first six years of my professional career. I probably had a better insight than most people on how things were going because I kept in touch with a few of the boys. With Dylan still at the club that was the biggest worry, because you obviously want to be sure that your little brother is sorted.
“But, at the same time, Hearts are too big a club to let it down and the support that the fans have given the club is incredible. It really is amazing to see the effort that people are putting in and really digging deep to help out the club.”
McGowan’s greatest moment in a Hearts jersey was when he scored the fourth of his team’s five goals in the 2012 Scottish Cup final against Hibernian. It was a historic triumph that may seem a world away for some supporters when compared to the club’s recent form, but the 24-year-old pointed out that there had been times during that season when that much more experienced team also struggled.
“Half of the boys getting changed in the first-team dressing room should still be at school,” he said. “It’s certainly different from the dressing room that I knew, but I think it’s unfair when I read stuff saying Hearts are inexperienced and dropping points that they should be picking up.
“I remember Paulo Sergio didn’t have a good league record. We were lucky to make the top six and the 5-1 final covered that season up dramatically for us. If we hadn’t won the Scottish Cup I don’t think Paulo Sergio would have been given the option to stay on for another season in charge. We were dire to watch away from home and even at home we struggled sometimes and I remember Kilmarnock beating us 3-0 at Tynecastle.
“Now you’d like to think that experienced Hearts team would beat the current side, so I think the fans must remember that. As much as it can be depressing to watch and a bit of a struggle, you have to remember that when we did have a so-called good team and a cup-winning side a lot of times we were pretty dire to watch too.”
The current team has had its moments, of course, notably last week’s League Cup win at Easter Road that proved to be Pat Fenlon’s last in charge of the home team. Although he revelled in that 2012 victory over Fenlon’s team, McGowan offered his sympathy for the now-departed manager.
He said: “The first 20 minutes of that derby is the best I’ve seen Hibs play. Fans have a big influence and I don’t think they were too happy after the game, but it could have been 3-0 in the first 20 minutes and if they had scored in that period it could have gone on to be a big result.
“It reminded me of how we played in the cup final, but the difference was that we got a couple of goals to show for that early dominance and it ended up a bit of a doing. But, at the same time, it could have worked the other way in the last derby.
“It’s hard to say whether he never recovered from that cup final. That wasn’t really his team: he had inherited that side six months before, and when you compare that side to the team he has produced now there is a big difference.
“I think they have a decent squad now and they’re doing all right. So I do feel for the guy, because it seems like he’s been a little bit hung out to dry for one result.”