BRAD McKay left the pitch to a standing ovation against Alloa on Wednesday evening and if it proves his last moment in a maroon jersey, the centre-back says it is one he will treasure.
He let his head rule his heart when he decided to sign a pre-contract with St Johnstone at the turn of the year. The ideal would have been the offer of a new contract and sticking around Tynecastle for their return to the top flight with his boyhood heroes, but even if the new deal had come he knew that signing it would mean sacrificing a shot at becoming a regular first-team player.
“It was a difficult decision to make and I thought long and hard about it,” said McKay. “I decided that was the best thing for me and the manager agreed. The easiest thing in the world would have been to keep my head down until the end of the season and just hope that I got a new contract – but that was never the right thing to do.
“I pushed the manager hard to let me know where my future was. He said he didn’t know, but he was looking to stick with Danny [Wilson] and Alim [Ozturk], and I made the decision for myself.
“If he was going to stick with those guys and I was only going to play the odd game here and there, that’s no good for me. It’s a great move for me and I am looking to go and play there.
“I don’t want to be a bit-part player, I want to play games. I’m paying attention to how they are doing and who is playing. That’s my next chapter, but my main focus is to make the most of the rest of my time at Hearts.”
While the move to a top-six side excites him, the 22-year-old admits that it is only now registering that time with the team he has grown up with is running out fast. “It will be emotional,” he said. “It has come in really quickly. I said to a couple of the boys: ‘This is my last month at Hearts’, and it just hit me. It feels like I should make the most of it – stay behind in training and things like that.”
But he says he has been giving his all throughout the season, despite the fact he knew he was a back-up player who was on his way out.
“I said to the manager that I never wanted to leave on bad terms or chuck anything. I’ve worked hard all season and I think the gaffer appreciates that I’ve pushed the guys who are playing, whether in under-20 games or in training, and I always wanted to leave on a high.
“When I come back, I hope I get a good reception. They normally do with the guys who leave. You never know – it could be the first game of next season, back here, which would be a really nice one.”
As he left the pitch on Wednesday, having started only his eighth first team game this term, helping the team get back to winning ways and keep a clean sheet in the process, he was given a standing ovation from a support who recognise him as one of them. The hug from Neilson showed that although their paths will diverge in the summer, there remains mutual respect.
“The standing ovation was a really nice touch from the supporters. I didn’t think they were going to give me it – so I turned around to clap them, just to make sure they did! It was a nice touch from the gaffer [to make the substitution and give the fans the opportunity to say their farewells]. I think he did that for me, it wasn’t a case of him just wanting to bring me off. He said: ‘There’s a standing ovation for you, mate’.
“I was tempted to milk it – take my shinpads off and pull the socks down and take my time! I really enjoyed that moment. If that was my last start in a Hearts jersey, then the supporters made it a special one. The games against Hibs are the kind of matches I’ll miss but also the games at Tynecastle – the fans here are incredible, 15,000 against Alloa in midweek is just phenomenal. It was a clean sheet and a win and, if that was the last time playing for Hearts at Tynecastle, then I am pleased with how it went.”
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