IN the Hearts dressing room right now, one voice is louder and more purposeful than any other. Jamie Hamill’s season is just starting as some colleagues plan summer holidays and time with the family after a difficult campaign. Hamill is pumped up and ready for five bottom-six fixtures which could be played in someone’s back garden for all he would care.
Season 2012/13 is drawing to a close, but for the 26-year-old it’s just starting. The pent-up frustration during almost a year out with cruciate ligament damage is finally being released. While some may be underwhelmed by Hearts finishing in the bottom half of the Scottish Premier League, Hamill is desperate for as much game time as possible.
Tomorrow he returns to former club Kilmarnock in confident mood. His first 90 minutes in a year saw him help Hearts record a 4-2 win over Ross County at Tynecastle two weeks ago and the defender has certainly made the most of that scenario. “I’ve had a wee laugh in the car about it with a few of the boys,” he admitted. “It’s certainly good to win as it’s been tough throughout the season watching games. Sometimes we’ve done really well but we haven’t got the right results.
“The league position doesn’t lie, we’re in this position because we haven’t been winning games. I hope the gaffer is going to stamp his authority on us now and I’d like to think we can produce for him. Getting back in the first team has been a long time coming for me. I worked really hard through the summer to get to where I am now and I’m due a lot of thanks to the physios for helping me get back involved. I’m seeing the light at the end of the tunnel now.”
Hamill’s campaign won’t end after Hearts’ final SPL match at Pittodrie on May 18. “You hear people saying it’s coming to the end of the season with five games left but I’ll be working right through the summer while others are on holiday. I want to work on my fitness for next season. Before then, I want to feature in these five games.
“I’ll be having a wee word with the physio about strengthening work and other things to do with rehabilitation for the knee. It will be basically fitness work I do during the close season. I’ve been missing for 11 months so I need to do a lot of work. I’ve had a good break, although it’s not been nice, while the boys have played a full season. I’ve only played a couple of times so I’m setting myself up to work hard through the summer.”
First he must negotiate a hostile welcome back at his former place of work. The regulars at Rugby Park did not take kindly to Hamill’s decision to defect to Tynecastle in May 2011 and have targeted the player for jeering ever since. “I’ll get a good reception when I go down there,” he smiled. “Kilmarnock didn’t make the top six, I’ve spoken to a few of their boys and they’re disappointed. I’m looking forward to going down there and hopefully we can get three points.”
Might that reception be all the more frosty given he was sent off on his last outing for Hearts against Kilmarnock back in February last year? “I think it probably will be, aye. I wasn’t expecting the amount of booing I got that day. I was sent off after two tackles. I got tackled right from kick-off (by Dieter van Tornhout) and both of us were booked. Then I went to tackle Garry Hay and got a second yellow. Garry still laughs about it to this day. We got a draw from the game when Suso scored for us but I was obviously disappointed going back there and getting sent off.”
Indications are Hamill is already back up to speed with the pace of first-team football despite the prolonged absence. His return has added some much-needed experience to the Hearts back four.
“I’ve been out for the best part of a year and it is difficult coming back in,” he continued. “You can play as many under-20 games as you want, it’s just not the same as first-team games. I’m thankful I got to play a few under-20s games but first team is what counts.
“It’s been really good working under Gary Locke so far. He got a result against Ross County and we want to take our performances from training on to the park on Saturday. We’ve all been working really well under the new gaffer with some new methods. I don’t think anybody would work any harder at this job than him.”
Locke has his work cut out in more ways than one. He must recruit new players this summer for the first time in his managerial career, gel those with the talented crop of youngsters already available and be ready for the new campaign starting. He could take care of one small detail this weekend, however. Hearts’ last ten matches against Kilmarnock have seen the Edinburgh club win only once. After taking part in an inspired victory two weeks ago, Hamill is out to help his manager do a welcome double.
“We’re not looking back on that, but we can put it right tomorrow,” he said. “It doesn’t make a difference who you’re playing against, you need to go out believing you’re going to win the game. Records are good to have and we’re on the wrong end of this one. Hopefully we can end it tomorrow.”