It’s a long way from Adelaide to Tynecastle but Ryan and Dylan McGowan wouldn’t be anywhere else, especially now they’re playing together again
RYAN McGowan has decided how the interview should be promoted and it’s an idea he is thoroughly chuffed with. “Yeah, the Gowser and Baby Gowser interview,” he says, smiling pointedly at his younger brother, waiting for a reaction. Dylan’s not keen on that moniker, it’s obvious. “Ha, ha, look at him, he hates it,” says Ryan. “But everyone has started calling him it. It’s brilliant!”
For most of this chat, the struggle is in getting the words out through the mirth. The banter is piercing but playful in the way only sibling ribaldry can be.
Riccarton is a long way from Adelaide but for the McGowan brothers it still feels like home. For them this is the chance to live the dream they shared as tots growing up in Australia. Back then they played in the street. This season, with their mum Theresa in the Tynecastle stand and their dad Jamie waiting to see the footage back in Australia, they started a first-team match together for the first time, and they won, beating St Mirren.
“That was a special day and not just because we were both starting,” says Ryan. “But, because of everything that was going on, it was a sell-out…”
“Yeah, nothing like being chucked in the deep end!” interjects Dylan, two years younger than his brother. “Obviously, my first start was the first home game after the share issue was launched and the club had that hanging over its head.” It was the first home game since Hearts had issued a rallying call to supporters to buy shares and keep the taxman at bay after HMRC had threatened the cash-strapped club with a winding up order. It was the game which might never have been. The fact it did take place meant the place was full and the mood was hopeful. More graduates from the academy system were in the starting line-up, with Dylan, Jason Holt and Jamie Walker joining the other regulars that day.
“In a way, that made it easier because all the boys really pulled together,” says Dylan. “Webby [Andy Webster] and Marius [Zaliukas], all the older boys and Ryan and Danny Grainger, they talk you through games.”
“And I think everyone was bouncing off each other that day,” adds Ryan, “because the fans understood that it was a difficult time. We are all pulling together. We understand how much they have raised and, in turn, they appreciate what we are doing to help, like deferring wages. All they expect is that we go out there and give 100 per cent.”
His willingness to do that has helped give him cult status, despite only becoming a mainstay last season. His brother’s early showings would suggest he has a similar spirit and similar promise, endearing him to the supporters as well.
“It’s nice [that the fans love Ryan] but it’s a little bit extra pressure as I can’t really have a bad game because he has rarely had one and people have an impression of what I should be like because I’m his brother, we look the same, although I’m obviously a bit better looking, and we play in a similar way. So it comes with its own pressure but it’s good that the fans know who I am and have that affection for my brother because I think it does make it a little bit easier for me.”
“His first couple of games I was probably more nervous than he was,” says the eldest McGowan. “I know what it is like playing your first couple of games and I’ve watched him since he’s come here, well, since he was born really, and I know this is all he’s ever wanted to do.”
“This is what we dreamed of when we were out in the back yard aged six and four, playing against the neighbours, and scoring the winning goals,” says Ryan. “Yeah, to be fair, the neighbours weren’t very good!” quips Dylan.
“OK, but 15-20 years down the line, to go from that to starting a first-team game at Hearts together, with mum there to watch us as well, was something extra special,” says Ryan. “We’re just a couple of boys from Adelaide, who used to kick the ball about in the street and annoy all the neighbours.”
They still have the ability to irritate the neighbours, though. Of Ryan’s three goals for Hearts, two were against Hibs, one in May’s Scottish Cup final. Dylan has yet to experience a derby, with injury denying him the chance to play in the most recent, but he has fully grasped the rivalry.
Ryan was the first to make the journey from Australia, aged 16, after their agent Dave McPherson responded to Hearts’ need for a player who fitted his profile. A couple of years later Dylan followed. “Yeah, he just rocked up. He must have missed me!” says Ryan.
Their mum’s hope that they would ensure they had something academic to fall back on was ignored. “For us it was this or nothing,” says 21-year-old midfielder Dylan. “So, when [Ryan] got the chance, I was over the moon for him and then when they came in for me it was a dream come true.”
“But he almost went to Hibs,” says right-back Ryan, 23.
“No I didn’t, I turned them down!” insists his brother.
“Yeah, but Hibs were looking for a similar player to Dylan at that time so he started here and if Hearts hadn’t worked out then it might have been Hibs.” “No, I wouldn’t have gone,” claims Dylan. “I would rather stay at home and play fives!”
“If you had gone to them, I would have smashed you in the derbies. It would have been like being out in the yard again,” says Ryan.
The jibes fly thick and fast. The laughter is raucous. The jocular jousting covers everything from who is the best footballer/cricketer, who is the better looking, whose answers are more scintillating, who wins at PlayStation, which one is their parents’ favourite... it goes on and on. But the interview is interrupted by a massive cheer emanating from a room nearby. Their team-mates had been in a meeting and it has gone well. “I guess that means we are getting paid this month,” they say, sharing a smile.
But neither player was promoted into the team in carefree times. Ryan endured managerial upheaval and the saga over late wages last season, Dylan has broken into the team against a backdrop of more wage issues, financial headaches and real uncertainty about the club’s future, let alone their own, with both out of contract at the end of the season. But they are strong characters, individually and as a duo.
When injury cost Dylan his place in the team, it was Ryan who reminded him not to get too down. “He did actually help me. Before the derby I was obviously upset that I would miss out but he just said that if I keep playing well then there will be plenty of derbies to come so I took that from him but I wouldn’t say he offered me much else!”
“Awh, c’mon, watch what you’re saying,” warns Ryan. “Mum will be reading this!”
But their folks must be proud. Firm favourites with the fans, they have worked hard to fulfil their dream. Ryan is one of the players who have invested in shares.
Hearts say the academy will be funded by the proceeds of the share issue, which has already raised more than £800,000 and which the directors hope will breach the £1 million mark by the time it closes this Wednesday. The brothers can’t speak highly enough of the set-up or the people who have nurtured then since they were teenagers and helped them develop as players and people. It was the academy which instilled in them the need to always give their all and always follow their dream.
There was a chance that the brothers may never have played in the first team together, though. Ryan was targeted by Rangers but while former team-mates David Templeton, Ian Black and Kevin Kyle have all moved west, McGowan stayed put. He insists he has no regrets.
By staying he experienced playing alongside his brother, which certainly counts as one of his most treasured moments in his career. The New Year derby is the next target for the brothers, and why not? In the same team, noising up the neighbours, it’s something they have been practising for all their lives.