Turning down a new contract at Partick Thistle, Paul Gallacher knew he was taking a risk. But he feels the gamble has paid off.
Preparing for Hearts’ return to European football for the first time in four years, the 36-year-old goalkeeper is hopeful of finding a place on the teamsheet but he recognises that, realistically, he will have to be patient if he wants to get a run out in the first team.
Manager Robbie Neilson has made it clear that he intends to give youth its chance, stating he will go into the new season with 22-year-old Jack Hamilton as his first choice, while Swede Viktor Noring and Israeli Danny Amos are also on trial, at the St Andrews training camp, this week.
But Gallacher says he still feels “humbled” to be offered a playing contract and the opportunity to coach at a club of Hearts’ stature.
“It’s a very big club and you get a feeling of how big the whole place is when the Europa League draw was made. The boys are buzzing in anticipation and looking forward to that and a big season ahead. We have great, young talented footballers at the club with a sprinkling of the older generation and I take that to a new level! But I was buzzing when the gaffer gave me a wee phone call to come over for a chat.
“I’m under no illusions, it’s becoming a young man’s game, particularly in Scotland. But I still feel I have something to offer. Just to have the opportunity, if required, I’ll be fit and ready, but primarily it’s a coaching role at Hearts. It’ll be quite hands on, there’s a lot to do. It’s not just the first-team goalkeepers, it’s the Under-20s and the academy stuff.
“We have a great bunch of goalkeepers here but I’ll keep myself fit if I’m required.”
It was a job he could only dream of when he headed towards the end of last season with no offer on the table. When one eventually came from Partick Thistle, the wage cut was drastic, with even Jags manager Alan Archibald embarrassed by it, according to Gallacher.
“Jobs are hard to come by and it was a massive risk not to just accept Thistle’s offer because you don’t know what’s out there, if anything. I thought I might have to drop down a level to play but, ultimately, I want to play at the highest level that I can.”
Having spent the past week working with Hamilton, he knows that his opportunities may be limited but he is still excited by the prospect of helping the younger keepers fulfil their potential, adamant that academy graduate Hamilton has something to offer the first team this season.
“He’s a very good goalkeeper. He has his moments where he can be a bit daft, but on the training pitch he’s fully focused on the job in hand and is very professional and hard-working. I have heard a lot of things about him for a while but he’s matured a lot towards the end of last season as he got some game time. Going away with Scotland and working with Jim Stewart and those other goalkeepers in the squad has helped him no end and he has come in and is very dedicated. I’ve been very impressed.”
Meanwhile, head coach Robbie Neilson has vowed that his team will be ready for the first leg of their Europa League qualifier against Estonian club FC Infonet which is just six days away, despite losing 1-0 to Aberdeen in a closed-door friendly match in St Andrews yesterday.
Following a 3-2 victory over Welsh side TNS the previous evening, he fielded different teams in each half aginst the Dons, for whom Shay Logan scored the winning goal. Hearts’ Arnaud Djoum struck a post with a second-half penalty.