THERE are more prosaic ways to discover, and delight in, your team winning a title than the manner that Callum Paterson experienced on Sunday. Not many, mind. The Hearts full-back was making his way to join-up with the Scotland under-21 squad as Hibernian were suffering the loss to Rangers that ensured Robbie Neilson’s side were formally Championship winners.
“I’d just got into my room and got a phone call from my mum saying ‘congratulations’. So I said ‘thanks very much’ and that was it. I’m rooming with Jordan McGhee so we both got a couple of well done texts, so that was the extent of our ‘celebrations’.”
The 20-year-old did not feel cheated that international duty – in the form of tomorrow’s friendly in Hungary – deprived him of attending the mother of all knees-ups, for the mother of all second tier triumphs. “There’s plenty of time to party at the end of the season. I’m still focusing on the rest of the season. This is one step away from the A squad and that’s where you want to be, so I’m just here to try and prove myself,” Paterson said.
The player said he isn’t surprised that he could miss out on title-winning carousing before the clocks had even gone forward – even when the second tier has never been decided so early. In a bizarre twist, Rangers’ first appearance in that stratum of Scottish football will be remembered as the least competitive such set-up effectively because the Ibrox team, and Hibernian, simply could not come anywhere near to matching the unerring efficiency and effervescence with which the hugely-impressive Neilson imbued his squad.
It was no accident that Hearts blitzed their way to the Championship, Paterson said, but down to the “intensity we have been playing at week in, week out and the way we train.” “That has shown throughout the season on the pitch,” the defender said. “It didn’t really come as a surprise because we worked hard for it and hard work pays off. We just need to carry on doing that and try to hit a couple more milestones before the season is out.”
Paterson is honest enough to admit he wasn’t initially thrilled by the intensity of Neilson’s training methods. He now has no quibble that they are patently for the best, both for team and players. “The manager’s training sessions have been justified,” he said. “We’ve won the league in record time and we’re on target to score 100 goals and he’s not even had his first season yet as a manager. Obviously, it was a bit of a shock at first because we were doing triple sessions sometimes and two gym sessions and two training sessions a day. You’d think at first ‘I really can’t be bothered doing this.’ But, at the end of the day, it showed it makes you a better player.”
Paterson’s doesn’t believe that a Hibs win last Sunday, which would have meant the Gorgie club having to wait at least until they entertained Queen of the South to be officially crowned champions, would have made for a guaranteed better crossing of the finishing line.
“It would have been great to win the league at Tynecastle on Saturday, but you never know, we could have gone out and lost that game,” said Paterson, who at only 20 is the longest-serving first pick at Hearts, even if Scott Robinson has been around for more years.
“I’m happy we have won the league now, but it would have been nice to have won it at Tynecastle.”
Meanwhile, Danny Lennon, the interim coach of the Scotland under-21 side, has confirmed that Mark O’Hara of Kilmarnock, Aberdeen’s Cammy Smith and Billy King of Hearts have been drafted in for tomorrow’s game after the withdrawal of Killie’s Craig Slater, Jason Cummings of Hibernian and Ross County’s Marcus Fraser.