Hearts winger Jake Mulraney looks genuinely shocked hearing of John Robertson’s goalscoring feats at Tynecastle Park. “I didn’t know. He didn’t tell me. I heard he was a big player here, like a huge player, but I hadn’t a clue.”
The Irishman was merely a toddler when Robbo played his last game for Hearts. However, their time together at Inverness Caledonian Thistle helped Mulraney learn how to reach the top from someone who has been there, seen it and donned the maroon t-shirt.
Robertson brings Inverness to Tynecastle today for a Betfred Cup shootout against the club where he is a living legend. He may not brag about it, hence Mulraney’s surprise, but Hearts supporters will forever adore their record league goalscorer.
Mulraney was Robertson’s player last season before a swap deal took him to Edinburgh and Hearts midfielder Angus Beith to the Highlands. He explained the debt of gratitude he owes to his former manager.
“He helped me improve and told me what I needed to do to really kick on. He was right, to be fair. He told me I needed goals, assists, crosses. That is exactly what you need as a forward player. It wasn’t a case of him being demanding, more helpful.
“He would encourage rather than rant and rave. He’s the kind of guy you listen to when it comes to scoring goals – although I didn’t even know he was a good goalscorer in his day. In fairness, he didn’t even mention it.
“When I knew I was coming here he told me what it was like. He told me what the club was like and explained about the fans, facilities and [what] expectations would be like. I had an idea. He was definitely right about the size of the club.
“The other night was a cup game [against Cowdenbeath] and that main stand looked full. I don’t see that as pressure. This is a big club.”
It was a fellow Irishman, Richie Foran, who signed Mulraney for Inverness two summers ago. The winger was being released by Queens Park Rangers and Foran offered regular football, albeit in a slightly more remote location than Shepherd’s Bush.
Without taking that leap of faith and heading north, Mulraney may not have got the opportunity with Hearts. “There were a good few Irish boys when I first went up to Inverness, and the manager [Foran] as well, so that helped me settle in straight away,” he explained.
“All I ever wanted was first-team football and to be a senior environment, playing games and progressing in men’s football.
“I jumped at the chance to come to Scotland for that and will always be grateful to Inverness for being the team that gave me that chance. I was a little bit in-and-out during my first season and thankfully kicked on in my second season.
“I definitely grew up while I was there. I’ve been away from home for a while, which takes its toll, and you need to become independent and do things for yourself from an early age. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for my time at Inverness. Simple as that.”
That does not mean he will allow sentiment to interfere with his professionalism this afternoon. Hearts require a win to finish top of Betfred Cup Group C and automatically qualify for the knockout phase, but they sit three points behind Inverness ahead of kick-off.
A two-point deduction for fielding an ineligible player still left them a fighting chance of qualifying. Mulraney feels it is a position they “would have taken” before the SPFL decided the punishment on Monday.
“My only focus is on making sure we go through, I can’t afford to think about what that would mean for Inverness. There’s no room for error and we need the right result,” he said.
He played as a substitute in the 5-0 defeat of Cowdenbeath but, despite creating the last goal for Michael Smith, was not happy with himself. “I still did a few silly, sloppy things that I shouldn’t be doing. I know myself that I shouldn’t be falling into that trap and it’s about concentration,” he admitted.
“That was the case against Cowdenbeath and Raith and it’s probably why I didn’t start on Tuesday. I’m critical of myself and I get annoyed when I don’t reach the standards I expect of myself.”
Some friendly banter in the build-up to this game might have eased his frustration. “I’m still pretty close with a few of the Inverness boys and we chat most weeks, so this is no different.
“I don’t mind as their banter is quite good, to be fair. Aaron Doran is a funny guy and I’d say he’s probably the one I stay in contact with the most, and Zak [Elbouzedi] as well. All the Irish lads, really.”