Don Cowie back for Hearts but Aaron Hughes won’t be rushed

Don Cowie will return to the Hearts fold in Sunday's game against Kilmarnock following a persistent hamstring injury. Picture: Alan Rennie/SNS
Don Cowie will return to the Hearts fold in Sunday's game against Kilmarnock following a persistent hamstring injury. Picture: Alan Rennie/SNS
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Life is tough enough when a player is forced to spend a spell on the sidelines, but Don Cowie says the frustration has been exacerbated by team-mate Prince Buaben and his taste in music.

The Hearts physio room has been busy in recent months, with a growing list of walking wounded passing through en route to rehabilitation. While that has given manager Craig Levein some selection problems to deal with, the company has been appreciated by those battling back to fitness in the gym. But Cowie claims that they all could have done without their Ghanaian colleague’s workout playlists.

“Prince definitely isn’t the one who keeps the morale up – his music is absolutely terrible! That was an eye-opener for me. I couldn’t even describe it, I’ve never heard anything
like it. It just goes from 
one extreme to another with every song.”

It is just one reason why he is glad to be back in full training and preparing himself for a return to the team against Kilmarnock tomorrow.

“The annoying thing is that we have had so many injured in a similar position, but there’s nothing you can do about that, there’s no point feeling sorry for yourself. You just need to get on with.

“It’s a bad time when you are injured, the hardest thing you can go through as a player – especially if you are in there on your own, so it is good to have others just to help you through the day at the gym, But, when I looked around and saw the players in there with me, it just hit home what a good core we have. You see Arnaud [Djoum], Malo [Malaury Martin], Prince, Connor [Randall], Aaron [Hughes] and Ash [Smith-Brown]. When we’re all fit at the same time, that can only make us stronger. The sooner we’re all back, the better.”

With every one of the past five fixtures, the injury list has grown. Jamie Walker was the latest addition, last weekend, and his hamstring strain is likely to keep him on the sidelines for at least another couple of weeks.

But Levein is hoping that the return of Cowie, who has participated in just one of the last five games due to a persistent hamstring problem, will be the first of many as several of his stricken squad members return to training and edge closer to a first-team return.

“We’ve definitely got Don back, provided he gets through training unscathed,” said the Hearts manager, “and I have had a chat with Aaron.”

The Northern Irishman eased back into training on Thursday, with a partial session, and is making progress according to his gaffer. But, he is loathe to rush him.

“There’s a lot of things going on,” said Levein. “We need him for Sunday and he has two huge matches coming up with Northern Ireland. But the medical advice is he needs seven to ten days full training before he goes into games and, as much as I want him, the last thing I want is to have him on the pitch on Sunday and then, like he did at Dundee, he leaves the field after seven or eight minutes.

“So I need to have a conversation with Michael [O’Neill, his international boss]. If it’s too soon for us then I think 
the first game for Northern 
Ireland would fall into that 
category as well.”

Hughes, pictured, has been included in O’Neill’s squad for the upcoming World Cup play-offs against Switzerland, but with the home leg in just five days’ time, Levein is wary of aggravating the calf problem and would prefer the experienced centre-back sit that match out. The second leg, in Basel, would come ten days after he resumed training, though.

Levein added: “That would be reasonable and then we don’t play for another week so he could play in that match for Northern Ireland and be able to play for us against Partick.”

Making an appearance over the course of the two legs would see Hughes make history, but Levein says it is to the player’s credit that he is concentrating on the bigger picture. “The conversation was very much about what’s right for right now. But the benefit of doing it properly will be another 20 matches for us and, if Northern Ireland do get there, there’s a World Cup to think about. We’re on the same page, which is good.

“It was refreshing because if Aaron plays one more game for Northern Ireland he becomes the most capped British defender ever – and that wasn’t even a concern for him. He just wanted to make sure he was fit to play the rest of the season.”