Brad McKay has heard the gloomy prognosis about the harm that being handed extended run-outs in the first-team is doing to the young players at Tynecastle.
Indeed, it would have been hard to miss it since among those proposing this theory is the Hearts assistant manager, Billy Brown.
Not that Brown is a lone voice. It has become received wisdom. Play too often as a youngster in a team that is struggling and you can expect to reap a bitter harvest. But 20 year-old McKay cannot agree. Even though the team are routinely falling to defeat, and hopes of catching the 11th placed side are receding with each passing week, he is relishing the experience of playing regularly in the Premiership.
The centre-half claims it will stand him and his team-mates in good stead next season, wherever it is that Hearts are playing. McKay says he has not yet abandoned all hope of survival, even though Sunday’s defeat to Partick Thistle has left Hearts 19 points adrift of Ross County, their nearest rivals. “We have to believe,” he said. “If any of the boys don’t believe then I don’t think they would turn up for training because that would just be crushing. What would we do every day coming into training today just thinking we were already relegated? The boys who are playing and even the boys who aren’t have got to believe.”
On the specific point of the potential damage to the youngsters’ careers from playing too often, he is equally emphatic. “It is not damaging me,” he pointed out, even though his latest appearances, against Thistle, resulted in yet another defeat, with mistakes in defence contributing largely to the reversal.
“I love Hearts and I love playing for Hearts,” he stressed. “If I only had one leg and I was playing for Hearts it wouldn’t damage me. I am not sure if all the boys feel the same but I am sure they do. I got chucked in at the deep end when I made my debut away at Easter Road. I came on when I wasn’t expecting it but I think it is good to get thrown right in than being helped in a little bit. It has given me a chance that maybe I wouldn’t have had if Andy Webster and Marius Zaliukas had still been here,” he added. “Maybe other boys might have come in as well but I know all the young lads are grateful of their opportunity.”
McKay did concede that it would be helpful if Hearts could call on a few more experienced players. On Sunday, for example, and due to Danny Wilson and Jamie Hamill being absent because of illness and suspension, Gary Locke was able to field only one experienced outfield player in skipper Ryan Stevenson.
“Maybe if we could have got a couple more experienced players in then it might have helped to give some of the young players a break,” said McKay, who joined Hearts from Edinburgh City in 2010.
“Mistakes cost people at the highest level but it just feels like we are getting punished for every mistake that is being made,” he added. “It has felt like that since the start of the season and we need to eradicate the mistakes because if we do that we won’t concede goals and lose games.”
Looking back to when the season began to unravel, McKay lamented the inability to take the chance to pull to within six points of St Mirren when leading against Ross County in September. Hearts were punished for two late mistakes, conceding twice in the dying minutes after Callum Paterson’s opener.
“If we had won that we would have given ourselves a real chance because they [St Mirren] were looking over the shoulder at that point,” he said. “They took a couple of chances at the end of the game and that was probably the turning point of the season for us.”