JAMES Keatings became Hearts’ second signing in two days yesterday, following the arrival of Morgaro Gomis on Thursday, a day after the club finally came out of administration and had their signing ban lifted.
The 22-year-old striker has agreed a two-year deal at Tynecastle, and joined as a free agent after the recent expiry of his contract with Hamilton Accies.
Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson said he had been aware of Keatings since seeing him in Celtic’s age-group teams, and had been impressed by his willingness to leave Parkhead last year in an attempt to develop his career. “I’ve known him for a number of years and watched him at Celtic where he scored a lot of goals in the youth teams and under-20s,” said Neilson. “The pleasing thing with James is that he had the opportunity to stay at Celtic a year ago, but because he didn’t see a pathway for himself he decided to take the opportunity to leave and go to Hamilton.
“He dropped down to try to forge a career and to see that desire is great. He had the ambition to take a chance and try to prove himself in a first-team environment. He did fantastically well for Hamilton at the start of last season but then picked up a wee injury. He could have stayed and played in the Premiership with Hamilton, but he recognises that there’s an opportunity here for him to progress. I’m pleased to get him. He’s a good character and a top development prospect for us.”
Hearts were short of recognised strikers throughout last season, and relied on Callum Paterson and Ryan Stevenson as their main attacking threats before the emergence of Dale Carrick late in the campaign. Carrick and Keatings now look like being Neilson’s first-choice partnership up front for the start of the Championship.
Hearts are in advanced talks with several more players as they continue with the rebuilding of their squad, and yesterday captain Danny Wilson said that recruiting well was likely to be the key to success next season. “Hopefully we can bring in a few more to help our cause,” Wilson said. “I think recruiting could make the difference. We’ve got a good group of young boys but we don’t really have a lot of experience. I think up until yesterday I was the oldest player in the team, so that gives you an indication. I think we do need to definitely add, but I’m sure the other teams will add as well. Hibs let go a lot of players, so they’ll be looking for a whole new squad. I think it does depend on who does bring in good players and who gets settled as quickly as possible.
“The championship is the league everybody seems to be talking about – whenever I bump into anybody they want to talk about how tough it’s going to be next year, and I think they’re spot on. You saw yesterday Falkirk have got Peter Houston as their manager, and he’s been a cup winner in this country, so it’s going to be tough. I don’t want to use the cliche that we’re going to be teams’ cup finals, but they will all raise their game against the so-called big three teams in that league.
“So it’s going to be tough to try and get out of it. With us going down, and with the teams that are already down there like Falkirk and Queen of the South, it was already going to be a tough league even before you add into it Rangers and Hibs.”
Wilson has just come back from a short holiday, and contrasted his return this year to the news that awaited him in the summer of 2013. “It was nice to come home to be told you were out of administration rather than going into it this summer,” he said. “It’s a long time to be in administration: it took a while and there was a lot of toing and froing.
“Now it’s done and everybody can look forward to next season. We’re going to play in a league that we feel we shouldn’t be playing in, but that’s the circumstances and we’re just going to try and make the best of it and get ourselves back up to the Premiership.”
Wilson himself could have been back in the Premiership had Hearts accepted a low bid from Dundee United, but neither he nor his employers was interested in a move to Tannadice. Asked if he saw United’s offer as a boost to his confidence, Wilson insisted his present position offered all the moral support he needed.
“It’s not something that I’m really fussed with,” he said about the United offer. “I can’t stop teams making bids. At the end of the day the club turned it down and it’s not something I’ve really had to think about. So I don’t need the confidence from that. I’m captain of Hearts and that’s all the confidence I need.”