In Brad McKay’s eyes, it has been the field of dreams and the stuff of nightmares.
Tynecastle is the ground where boyhood heroes trod and where he took his own kiddie steps in his chosen career with a first team breakthrough alongside a wave of young Gorgie talents.
Having left Hearts for St Johnstone in summer 2015, though, McKay’s one previous homecoming in opposition colours turned into something of a personal horror show. In front of a large Sunday television audience, the central defender’s excitement at being back got the better of him in an August 2015 season’s opener.
After only a few minutes’ play, a slip while in possession near the centre line saw Hearts’ striker Juanma surge away to score a gift of an opening goal in an eventual 4-3 triumph over the Perth visitors.
Three years on, the older, wiser 25-year-old aims to temper the emotions he believes wreaked havoc in that match. Whatever tricks fate might play in the League Cup group C decider, none of it, McKay insists, will be down to a lack of focus or nostalgia for his surroundings.
He said: “I’ve not had fond memories of Tynecastle since leaving. When I went back there with St Johnstone, the first league fixture threw us up against Hearts at Tynecastle.
“I was buzzing. It was my first start for St Johnstone and I made a horrendous error near the halfway line where I slipped and lost the ball. The manager told me at half-time not to worry about it, saying ‘everyone makes mistakes – you slipped’ but it proved costly.
“Football does these things to you. I actually spoke to Josh Meekings when he came back up to play us after leaving Inverness and said ‘be careful – control your emotions’.
“If you end up getting overly-emotional, it can be an issue and you can’t really focus on your job. You get wound up in your thoughts. I was excited for the Hearts trip with St Johnstone, not nervous in the usual way, and I went back and made that mistake. It was live on BT Sport on the Sunday, so a lot of people saw it.
“The next time we played them in the league, we drew, but I was suspended for that one so I’ve not been back since. You can learn from it, but if I go and slip on Sunday, it is what it is – there’s nothing you can do about it.
“But I know this time I’ll not be so emotionally-attached and excited to be back as I was last time. I’ll try to contain my emotions.
“It is a big chance for the players here to go and make a mark and impress. Let’s be honest, no-one wants to stay at this level forever.
“The manager tells us all the time: if you want to get to the next level, this is what you have to do. These are the places where you have to perform.”