Everyone at Hearts knows they have something to prove. But Conor Sammon is, perhaps, more desperate than most to make his mark.
As a club Hearts are determined to show they are good enough to keep building on the past couple of seasons’ work and finish ahead of Aberdeen and Rangers, in second, while their rookie manager has a raft of sceptics to win over after landing one of the top club jobs in Scotland, despite the absence of a high end playing resume.
His arrival means the players are also on trial as they seek to impress the man who will now be selecting the team and deciding who has a future at Tynecastle.
But, as well as trying to make his mark on Ian Cathro, who will make his home debut as boss against Partick Thistle today, Sammon is also aware that a growing chunk of the Hearts support need convinced of his merits. It means there is a lot of pressure on his shoulders but he says he is equipped to bear that burden.
Signed by the Gorgie club in the summer, the Irish striker has scored just one goal in 18 appearances, albeit that, since the defeat at the hands of Kilmarnock in October, his game time has been limited to substitute cameos.
In the time since, the former Wigan and Derby County forward has watched Bjorn Johnsen make the most of his starting slot, gaining momentum, goals and a player of the month award as well as the growing affection of the Hearts support, and has also been keenly aware of the grumbling that has accompanied his own introduction in recent games and greeted any goal chance squandered.
“I think you have to be quite thick-skinned,” said Sammon, as he helped promote Police Scotland’s anti-domestic abuse campaign yesterday. “When I was younger it would affect you, you would come away from the game and think about these things an awful lot. As you get older you learn to deal with it better, how to channel the frustrations. The fans are frustrated when you get a chance and the ball does not go in the back of the net and that’s natural. I’m the same, I’m angry at myself, so it’s a double whammy.
“I just need to keep working hard, that’s my way of getting through tough times. There’s no substitute for that hard work and determination. Strikers are judged on goals but you can add other things into your game, as in be a threat, get assists and help your team-mates out – but ultimately it’s the goals that really make you smile about a game. With a new manager coming in, I’m keen to impress like all the players are. I’ve not been scoring enough from the opportunities I’ve had and that’s all on my shoulders. I’m hoping I can learn from the manager and he can give me pointers.”
Ex-pros have expressed doubts about his 30-year-old boss, citing the lack of a professional playing career and his relative youth as drawbacks but Sammon says his coaching credentials speak for themselves and does not see Cathro’s age as a negative, stating that the fact he is the same age as the gaffer could even be a positive.
“It’s unusual, but even Robbie Neilson wasn’t that much older. When I first came in, it was refreshing to have someone who is so young. I think you can relate to them a bit more. People look at it and think: ‘Does he have the authority?’ I think it’s like a player. If a young player is good enough, he’ll get his chance no matter his age. That’s the case with the manager.
“His avenue into coaching is incredible. Look at the places he’s worked, I’m sure he’s learned a lot of things along the way. Now he’s at this point where he’s the main man. It must be exciting for him to cut his teeth here as a manager.”