BRAD McKAY quickly earned the nickname “Angry Man” after joining Hearts from Edinburgh City three years ago. The season ahead will bring him plenty exposure at first-team level, and perhaps some evidence of why he got his moniker.
The 20-year-old has only two senior appearances to his name but is expected to feature regularly in Gary Locke’s baby-faced team following Hearts’ descent into administration. Beware of the consequence of defeat, however, when McKay is involved.
“I love to win and when I don’t win, a lot of people are going to know about it,” the centre-back told the Evening News. “That’s where the nickname comes from. I’m not a happy man when I’m not winning. When I lose, everyone knows about it.”
One can only imagine his reaction to Tuesday evening’s 5-1 defeat by Dinamo Bucharest, although his frustration may have been diluted somewhat by the fact that the match was Hearts’ first pre-season outing. McKay partnered 21-year-old Dylan McGowan in central defence against the Romanians, with another 21-year-old, Danny Wilson, the only other notable contender for the position in Locke’s threadbare squad.
McKay’s tenacity may prove useful over the coming months as Hearts try to overhaul a 15-point deficit, their automatic punishment for entering administration. “Hopefully it will stand me in good stead,” he continued. “As long as I keep it under control, I’ll be all right.
“Every professional has to keep his anger under control. However, when you’re not winning, then you need a mentality that you need to win and you need to do better. You need to let people know that, if they aren’t doing well, then they need to do better. Every team needs that somebody to let them know when it’s not good enough.
“That includes me. If I’m not doing well enough then somebody’s got to tell me. Sometimes that’s all you need, whether it’s the gaffer or one of the senior boys just to say, ‘come on’.
“When you look at it, the 15-point deficit doesn’t look great. I speak to some fans and other people who say to me we’re in trouble. If you think what could happen, and what I think will happen, is that we will get out of this and we’ll survive. It’s an exciting prospect and I’m really excited for the season ahead.”
First, the Hearts academy graduates have more learning to do. Tomorrow they travel to Fife for another friendly against Dunfermline, the proceeds of which will be split 50-50 by two clubs in administration and under the control of restructuring firm BDO. Just like at East End Park, essential cost-cutting at Tynecastle means a whole host of academy players will now become vital cogs at first-team level.
“There are a lot of chances for a lot of young players,” said McKay. “I got a chance last year, as did loads of others. This year even more young boys will get an opportunity and everyone knows that. We need to pull together and knit together as a team. If one of us is injured, it could be an even younger kid coming in, then younger again and younger again. You saw how young the team was last season. It will be even younger this time.
“Competition has definitely risen because of that. When the senior boys are there, there is a sense that they are the internationalists and they’re going to play. When you see an opportunity to get in there, you’re going to go for it, aren’t you? All the younger boys behind me will be looking at my spot and saying, ‘if he can get there, then that’s what I’m working towards’. At the same time, I’m looking up and looking to progress myself.
“Everyone has targets. I got a wee taste of the first team last season, started making it onto the bench and got a couple of games under my belt. I’m hoping to build on that, get more game time and gain more experience. I’m looking forward to that side of it.”
Of the players ready to assume arguably the biggest challenge facing any Hearts team before a ball has been kicked, only Ryan Stevenson, Jamie MacDonald, Jamie Hamill and Mark Ridgers are over the age of 21. McKay doesn’t consider himself a youngster despite his lack of games.
“I’m probably one of the older ones. There are four or five more experienced than me but I’m a bit older than some of the boys. It’s scary to look at it that way, but exciting at the same time. I’m more hyped up about it.
“I joined Hearts when I was 17 straight from boys club football. Some of the boys have been here since they were 13, or even as young as ten. They’ve come up through the ranks, whereas I came in late. I’ve had to work hard for a wee bit of recognition and to get where I am so I’m looking forward to this chance now. I’m up for the challenge.
“I can only work my socks off like I’ve been doing. You don’t expect anything. You put the work in and hope that the rewards will come. I’m hoping there is a spot for me in the team this season. I’ll play anywhere.
“If we can stay up and keep our place in the top flight, which I think we can, then the following season you could have a team of 20-year-olds and 21-year-olds who are capable of playing in the top division. What a great incentive that is for the club and the fans to have young boys who can stay and build for the future. It would be great.”