The Brad McKay Book Group held its second meeting at Tynecastle yesterday, but after the teasing he took from his team-mates last time, the young central defender was a lot more coy about revealing his reading preferences. In fact, he tried to insist: “I don’t read.”
The group doesn’t operate along the usual lines. It’s Brad telling hacks about the books he is enjoying and us being pleasantly surprised that a footballer would scrutinise anything which wasn’t the back pages or Twitter. The group may now have to be disbanded but, hey, it was fun while it lasted.
McKay confessed two months ago that his perusing of The Secret by Rhonda Byrne, once the world’s fastest-selling self-help book, had brought him stick in the dressing-room – and this only increased when the revelation made the papers. Yesterday, asked for the titles he will be packing for the summer hols, he at first claimed he wasn’t a reader, though what he meant was he didn’t read on planes, which he hates, preferring to “get the headphones on”.
So has he ditched The Secret? No, it’s still consulted. “I usually pull it out when times are hard,” he said. You’d imagine it has been well-thumbed recently. First, McKay lost his place in the team. Then relegation was confirmed. Then his manager was axed, along with the experienced players who had coaxed him through the toughest of campaigns and some good pals among the kids.
The 21-year-old admitted he could have gone, too, but was relieved to be spared on the first day of the Ann Budge-Craig Levein revolution. “It was a shock to everyone,” said McKay. “We had a meeting here and it was a real shame to see close friends leave, and to see so many go at the same time.
“I was close with most of them. It was a close-knit squad last season and all the younger boys came together and the older ones helped them out. The season before I didn’t really have a relationship with the likes of Jamie Hamill and Jamie MacDonald but I got a lot closer to them, especially Jamie MacDonald, who was the man behind me.
“All the boys who went – Dylan McGowan and Mark Ridgers and Tam [Callum] Tapping who’s the same age as me – are top talents. It’s a shame what’s happened but that’s the reality of football now. I could have left, too, but I’m just glad I’m part of the plans for next season.”
McKay also paid tribute to Gary Locke and his coaching team. “He sent the players a text thanking them for their efforts so of course I sent one back thanking him and Billy Brown and Alan Combe because they’ve all helped me in my career so far.” Now for its next phase, to be overseen by Levein and Robbie Neilson.
McKay has had minimal contact with the new director of football thus far but believes the club is being taken in the right direction so it’s “exciting” to be involved in that. Of new coach Neilson he says: “Robbie’s great. I was fortunate to work with him before in the under-20s. When I found myself out of the first team due to a bad performance, I would go to him and ask to do extra work, one-to-one, headering or whatever. He was great for that. He’s got a lot of time for young boys and he played for Hearts so he knows what the club’s about.”
For Hearts’ tilt at the Championship, McKay has had lower-league experience, which was brief but invaluable, having been out on loan to Stenhousemuir. “When I went down there I was shocked. Obviously, that was one division below the Championship but I was shocked by the standard, as in how good it was. I expected these guys to be big brutes kicking lumps out of each other and for the training to be terrible. But Martyn Corrigan, who was manager at the time, put good routines in place and the players were good. All the teams we played, the likes of Forfar and Airdrie, were good and they all expected to win.”
Hearts and Rangers are expected to dominate the second tier but McKay warns that the league won’t be easy to win. “The other teams, they’re no mugs. To beat Rangers will be a scalp for them, same with beating us. They won’t want Hearts to go to their place and turn them over easily.” And what of the Championship’s last remaining place – does the player who grew up supporting Hearts want it to go to Hibernian? “I’m not going to comment on that!”
For McKay, a season without a 15-point penalty will be a novelty and he can’t wait to have that level playing-field. Meantime, he’s going on holiday to Tenerife. “I just booked it the other day and now I’ve found out that Callum Paterson and wee Sam Nicholson are going there too. I’m sure we’ll meet up, although we’ll have to try not to discuss football. You get stick for doing that when you’re out with the boys. You’re supposed to put the ball away.”
Any long silences and he could always dig out his books, even try and interest his pals in them.
• Brad McKay was speaking at the Bank of Scotland Midnight League East Regional Final at Tynecastle.