McKinlay: Gary Locke key to Hearts success

Gary Locke: Blooded new talent. Picture: SNS

Gary Locke: Blooded new talent. Picture: SNS

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Former Hearts and Celtic full-back Tosh McKinlay believes that the contribution made by Gary Locke to the revival of the Edinburgh club should not be airbrushed out of the history books.

Locke was replaced as manager by Robbie Neilson six months ago, once new owner Ann Budge assumed control at Tynecastle.

Faced with the impossible task of retaining their Premiership status when hampered by a 15-point deduction for entering administration, Locke took the opportunity to blood emerging talent and provided the academy graduates with invaluable experience. Now McKinlay feels that Neilson is now reaping the benefit of Locke’s approach – without taking anything away from the current boss.

McKinlay said: “To be honest, I’m not surprised by how well they’ve started in the league. I was more surprised that they didn’t keep Gary Locke as ­manager because people forget how strongly they finished last season – five wins and two draws from their last eight games.

“Gary was building for the Championship by giving young boys a chance but, with the change of ownership came a change of manager, which is fair enough.

“It’s their money, so they can do that, and Robbie Neilson has been excellent.

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“He’s benefited from the ­experience that Gary gave those youngsters. They’ve grown from that, grown in confidence, and taken that into this campaign.”

Celtic, the favourites to win the William Hill Scottish Cup, visit Edinburgh in the fourth round on Sunday.

McKinlay said: “I saw Hearts when they were turned over at Parkhead in the League Cup but Tynecastle will be packed and they’ll think they can win it.

“I’m looking forward to an old-fashioned cup tie. Hearts could possibly give Celtic a ­bigger challenge than some teams at the foot of the Premiership.

“Are Hearts any worse than the bottom four clubs? I wouldn’t have thought so. They’re playing really well and they have momentum.

“It’s always been a good ­fixture and the cup gives it extra spice. Hearts turned Rangers over last week – can they do the double? They’ll be well up for it.”

McKinlay admitted that he will be surprised if Celtic do not complete a clean sweep of ­domestic honours for the first time since 2001 but he expects Hearts to provide them with a rigorous examination.

He said: “Hearts won’t sit back: they’ll have a go and why not? Celtic beat them 7-0 at Tynecastle in this competition last season but the Hearts boys have learned from that.

“As a footballer, you need to find a way to benefit from those experiences.

“That was a very heavy defeat but that can help you grow up. I remember, starting out at ­Dundee, taking some real doings from Celtic and that great ­Aberdeen side and I took positives from those setbacks.

“With Rangers not being in the league, you would expect Celtic to win it by a country mile. In cup competitions you would expect the same, given the confidence they’ve gained from ­winning the league.

“Celtic should, realistically, be looking at winning the treble every season. They haven’t done it since Martin O’Neill’s first ­season as manager in 2001. But it’s in the DNA of that club to want to win every competition it ­enters.”

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