JAMIE MacDonald has backed Hearts goalkeeper Jack Hamilton to be a star for the club for many years to come. MacDonald’s view should count for something since they were once training partners. He also knows something about claiming the No 1 shirt at Tynecastle, although MacDonald had to wait slightly longer for his chance to shine.
Now with Falkirk and preparing for a derby of his own in tonight’s Petrofac Training Cup tie with Dunfermline, MacDonald was an interested onlooker on Sunday as Hearts defeated Hibernian 2-1. He admits it was a “strange” experience to watch rather than be actively involved in an Edinburgh derby. However, he was heartened by the performance of the 20-year-old Hamilton, who looked very assured after stepping in at short notice for his debut.
MacDonald made his own first appearance for Hearts in 2008 at the age of 22, having joined the club as a schoolboy. He finally started to make the goalkeeper jersey his own in 2011-12 and was a stand-out performer last season as Hearts made a spirited attempt to overcome a 15-point deduction imposed at the start of the season. There was some surprise when he was allowed to leave in the summer.
MacDonald clearly holds Hamilton in the same high regard as Robbie Neilson, the head coach who had no qualms about sending a rookie out into the fray after an injury crisis robbed Hearts of the services of new first-choice Neil Alexander and deputy Scott Gallacher. Hamilton had already been recalled from a loan period at Stenhousemuir but the emergency signing of 28-year-old Lee Hollis meant many expected the former Motherwell goalkeeper to take his place in the starting line-up on Sunday. Not MacDonald, however. He believed it was a wise choice to give Hamilton a taste of such a high-octane occasion.
“I think a lot of people probably felt he would go for Hollis,” he said. “But for me it was the right decision. At the end of the day Jack is their goalkeeper, he has signed for three years. It would be more beneficial to give him a go and he is more than capable.
“I trained with him a lot,” added MacDonald. “He was an excellent young talent. You could see on Sunday that he had a good maturity about him. I suppose he would be quite intimidating to look at in goal. He is about 6ft 2in and he has a good build about him. He has a bit of presence about him for a young boy.
“Ability-wise he is fantastic. He has a right good chance of being a top, top goalkeeper. I know him really well and I thought he was different class. If he keeps playing well he can make the jersey his own.”
Hamilton conceded a penalty after only half an hour on Sunday but the award was sent past a post by Hibs skipper Liam Craig. MacDonald noted how well Hamilton recovered from being on the wrong end of such a decision, which came after the young ’keeper challenged for a loose ball with Danny Handling.
“I thought it was a harsh penalty,” said MacDonald. “You could see yesterday he is a brave goalkeeper. At the penalty, for me it is a brave save that he has made. It could easily have knocked his confidence. But it didn’t. He went from strength to strength after that. I am delighted for him. Hopefully he can keep doing well and kick on.”
Sadly for Hamilton, he will not be able to “kick on” immediately, as he is cup-tied for tomorrow night’s Petrofac Cup clash with Livingston having played in an earlier round when on loan at Stenhousemuir.
“Ideally for him he would have had the chance to play in that game as well and get a bit of momentum,” said MacDonald. “He did well enough and for me he deserves to stay in for the next league game anyway.
“He will have to wait and see how it goes. It would be better if he was not cup-tied and he had the chance to continue this week but that’s football sometimes. I suppose a week ago he would never have thought he would be making his debut for Hearts in an Edinburgh derby.”
As MacDonald himself pointed out yesterday, he is at Falkirk now. Hearts are in the past. Indeed, he is due to visit Tynecastle a week on Saturday, when he will have the strange experience of featuring in the opposition and, perhaps, will see Hamilton staring back at him from the opposite goal.
MacDonald admitted it was unsettling at first to join a new club after 14 years at Tynecastle, a stay that was interrupted by a loan spell at Queen of the South. As he pointed out, such was the extent to which Hearts tended to overhaul their playing squad, particularly during the Vladimir Romanov era, it felt like he was joining a new club every couple of seasons in any case.
“After 14 years all in at one club – fair enough, I spent some time on loan at Queen of the South – it is a lot of time to be going to the same place for work each day,” he mused.
“So of course it was a bit strange at first. Maybe the first couple of weeks it was a bit hard to settle. But once the games start it is pretty simple. At the end of the day it is just football. It is the same game, just different people. Believe me, at Hearts it felt like a different team every other year anyway.”
He is happy to be at Falkirk, and eager to taste the club’s own version of a derby when they face Jim Jefferies’ Dunfermline tonight in a break from an intense period of league action. After this evening’s clash, Falkirk face two league trips to Edinburgh to play Hibernian and Hearts on consecutive weekends.
“I already knew Falkirk v Dunfermline is a bit of a derby,” he said. “When we got through the last round you were looking at games you’d quite like to get, and I remember thinking it would be nice to get Dunfermline. You want to play in games with a bit of atmosphere.”