Danny Grainger has a score to settle in Europe

DANNY Grainger is anxious to clarify the situation. Quickly. Yes, his only previous taste of European football was as part of a Gretna squad facing up to Derry City in 2006, but Hearts' latest signing only played in the return leg.

• Danny Grainger shows off the new Hearts home strip after sealing his Tynecastle move. Picture: SNS

That year Gretna qualified for the Uefa Cup courtesy of finishing runners-up to Hearts in the Scottish Cup, but it was a short-lived affair. A 5-1 drubbing in the first leg meant there was little to play for by the time they headed over the water for the second 90 minutes a fortnight later.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"I played over in Derry. It was good to sample it, but we were just out of our depth, weren't we? It was just one of those things and we shouldn't really have been there, I don't think, and we didn't do ourselves justice, although maybe in the second leg we did."

They drew that 2-2, but it still made for an embarrassing 7-3 aggregate defeat.

This time around he is more confident. He feels Hearts' performances last season give them a greater right to perform on the bigger platform and a good chance of extending their stay into the Europa League group stages.

"I'm just really looking forward to getting started now. We have been seeded and we have a reasonable chance to get into the group stages."

The Europa League matches were part of the Tynecastle club's lure. "Being honest, I said to my agent that there were only three teams I would stay in Scotland for and that was the Old Firm or Hearts. I don't see any other team up here that I would be leaving St Johnstone to go to that would be a greater team.

"I thought I would go down south but, when I got the offer from Hearts, I couldn't wait to sign the deal. I could have sat until the middle of June and maybe a couple of English teams might have offered something, but it's all maybes and it would have taken a massive team from down south to persuade me not to sign here. You have the European football here, you're the best of the rest, and who knows what can happen in the cups.

"When you are growing up you look at these games on TV and you want to be involved. The games against the Old Firm, the Edinburgh derbies, and now you have the European clubs, and these are the sort of games you want to be involved in - you don't want to be involved in the lower-league battles."

As yet, he hasn't looked to see who Hearts could be pitted against when the Uefa draws are made - he is too busy trying to find a new home for himself and his wife, Heather, who is expecting their first child in September. He hopes the club will still be involved in European competition by then, but it's also the greater promise of success in the domestic competitions that excites the left-back.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The third signing for Hearts so far this summer, following John Sutton and Jamie Hamill, he says the prospects are good.

"I think when you look at every team, you have John who scored a lot of goals (for Motherwell] and Jamie has been a top player for Kilmarnock all season and I would like to think I have contributed quite a lot to St Johnstone. It's not just Hearts strengthening, but also weakening other teams.

"I think improving every season is the main aim and, if that means improving on third spot, then great. If it means getting a good cup run, I think most Hearts fans would probably take being cup winners and finishing in third place."

Having played against them all last term, Grainger insists that on their day there was little to separate the Old Firm from Hearts and believes the Gorgie side are the only ones capable of mounting a challenge.

"Hearts were rocked by losing big Kevin (Kyle] and I think that was a big hit for them to take. But, with John coming in now, there's competition for places and that's good for Hearts."

He faces a similar test at left-back, aware that, if Lee Wallace's mooted move doesn't materialise, he will have a tussle on his hands.

"Lee is a good player and, in my eyes, one of, if not the best Scottish left back around at the moment. I'm looking forward to the challenge and, hopefully, learning a few things. Obviously, I've read the papers, but I don't know if he is moving on or not."