It doesn’t seem so long ago that Hearts were relying on Lithuanian therapist Rima and her magic golden sticks to treat players. Now things are far more scientific and high tech.
Each player has to log into a phone app and insert the kind of details that can help mould their training session for that day, as the staff do everything possible to ensure the team will peak come game day.
“Every morning we’ve got to log our wellness, how we’re feeling, our muscles – everything. It’s very detailed,” says midfielder Don Cowie. “That has to be done before you come in or you’ll get a big fine.
“Even training day to day, you’ve got your GPS, so they can monitor how fast you run in training and how far you’re running so they can maybe say the next day, ‘taper it off a wee bit, don’t do as much because your stats suggest you were overworked yesterday’. It’s wee things like that.
“A few years ago you would go out and work as hard as you could everyday but you want to be ready for a Saturday come three o’clock, that’s the main thing.”
Sitting in Oriam, Scotland’s new Sports Performance Centre, the Scotland international acknowledges how far things have come since he was breaking into the sport, training on astroturf that felt like concrete, cleaning seats in the stands, as well as the bus and the first team’s boots.
“To have this in the winter time, it’s going to be fantastic for us,” added Cowie. “You’ve got the indoor pool as well. It can only be a good thing, not just for Hearts but for Scottish football. I believe Scotland will be based here as well so it’s fantastic.
“You see the recovery area we have now, the gym. It’s on our doorstep. The desire might not have been there to go into the gym but now it’s right there, you can’t hide from it. You’ve got to use it.
“I think it shows Scottish football is catching up and really making an effort. It’s something that really blew me away when I went to England, how much detail there is. Finances dictate as well, but even wee things like when I went to England you’re getting your protein shakes. It’s there waiting for you. But when you’re at Inverness and Ross County, it’s different. It’s simple little things. Hearts are striving to be the best and all this is coming together nicely.”
Spells at Watford, Cardiff City and Wigan Athletic opened Cowie’s eyes and he hopes the youngsters at Hearts will enjoy a similar education as the club embraces all the advances.
“When I was in Scotland before, you just went out, you train and that’s it,” he said. “In England, you’re training half an hour before you go out to train. It’s about activation. It does take a while to adjust but that’s just how football has evolved. Everyone is in the gym half an hour before you go out. Before, you would just go out and start kicking balls.
“For older players, it’s trying to improve and extend your career. For younger ones, it’s great for them to see that. At Cardiff, Kenny Miller came in and despite the career he had he’d never done the stuff he was being asked to do there. You’re learning all the time no matter what age you are. You’ve got to buy into it. If you’re not interested, you’ll be left behind.
“And often it’s the little things that matter most in the quest for the biggest rewards.
“It’s one thing that got drummed into me when I was playing in England. Malky Mackay used to talk about it as a manager, it’s fine details and it’s fine margins. The 1 per cents can really make the difference come Saturday. If everyone is doing it, you add it up and it can be a big gain.”
Hearts are chasing marginal gains. Having made massive strides over the past couple of seasons, it is now a case of building on that, bit by bit. After a hard-fought defeat by champions Celtic, then a dogged draw away to the only other side to finish above them last term, Aberdeen, a win against Inverness at Tynecastle today would count as ongoing improvement.
But they are still seeking their first Premiership point under new manager Richie Foran, which will make things tough.
“I was with him for a week at Inverness,” said Cowie. “Terry Butcher got the manager’s job and he was desperate to get Richie in as a player because of what he is. He’s a winner and a leader. I moved to Watford so I didn’t get to play with him. They will be desperate to get something but it’s about us playing at home and getting that winning feeling again.
“It’s been a hard start. Celtic and Aberdeen were the two best teams last year. We’ve only taken a point but I think we’ve acquitted ourselves well. We more than matched Celtic and were disappointed to come away with nothing. It was important we went to Aberdeen and made sure we got something out of that game.
“But with the players we’ve got, these are the games we need to start winning and putting a run together.”
But any failure to show their guests respect could backfire Cowie has warned, saying that they have been under-estimated year after year, and seem to enjoy railing against that.
“I think they love that role they have within Scottish football, proving everybody wrong,” he said. “People don’t give them much chance every year, but every year they throw it back in their faces.
“They’ve finished third before and still had that disrespect. What the two clubs up north have achieved is incredible. I’m sure they’ll keep it going. It will be difficult because finances dictate. They lose players every year but they recruit and go again.”