At 34 years old, Don Cowie is only a month younger than Jon Daly. But while Cowie has just agreed to keep on playing for at least another full season, he believes Daly is now already equipped with the qualities to become full-time head coach at Hearts.
The midfielder, who has signed a new deal until 2019, recalled when Daly was thrust into the role of interim head coach for a first time late last year, following Robbie Neilson’s departure.
Cowie observed that Daly, barely a year into his role as Under-20s coach, was not quite ready then.
But nine months down the line, he’s enjoyed the benefit of another semester at the university of coaching. “It’s in good hands,” said Cowie, when asked about the current situation. Hearts are doing what they said they were going to do by taking their time to assess the options.
Daly was in charge for a game last season – a 2-2 draw at Ross County. But he’s already overseen a win from the opening two league matches this season since taking over after Ian Cathro’s sacking. Hearts head to Ibrox today in better spirits than of late. Unsettled winger Jamie Walker is expected to play a part for the first time since the defeat by Peterhead in late July.
“There’s been a real lift about the place,” said Cowie. He harbours no doubts that Daly is capable of handling duties on a full-time basis, despite the high calibre of candidates being sounded out by the Gorgie club.
“He’s brought that competitive edge back, especially in training,” added Cowie. “I think that showed at Kilmarnock last weekend. If we can get another result I’m sure it will do Jon no harm at all.
“Nine months ago when he was caretaker he was quite new to it and he said himself he wasn’t ready at that time. But now I see someone who is ready to be Hearts manager.
“The boys really respect him,” he continued. “I can only go on what I see in training but there’s been a great response to him and long may that continue.”
A trip to Ibrox this afternoon is the latest test, and Hearts’ third away game of four in succession.
Three points from games at Celtic and Kilmarnock could be viewed as over-achievement, particularly given fears Hearts would return to duty in Edinburgh at Murrayfield having failed to pick up any points at all from their first four outings.
It’s helped build support for Daly to be given the post full-time, ably assisted by Austin MacPhee. But that hasn’t stopped high-profile names continuing to be linked with the post.
Former England head coach Steve McClaren remains in the frame having turned down an opportunity to become sporting director at Maccabi Tel Aviv. Paul Hartley, Steven Pressley and Dougie Freedman are also in the running.
“It’s only natural, Hearts is a massive job,” said Cowie. “We’ve read the names linked to the post and they are big names. But that doesn’t surprise me that people like that want the job.
“But I’m sure Jon is in there, under consideration and a win on Saturday could be massive for him and for us and for the season ahead.”
Cowie is delighted to have his future sorted out. Since he turns 35 in February – Daly hits the same age in January – it could well be the last contract Cowie signs. But then his performances of late suggest he’s a prime candidate for an Indian summer. Still, he knows he needs to be mindful of what happens afterwards. Like many footballers his age, he is combining playing with some coaching duties at Hearts.
Cowie took it as a huge compliment that Hearts approached him to discuss extending his stay. It was not because of agitation on the part of either him or his agent.
“I was delighted they felt the need to do that,” he said. “I’m not getting any younger but I still feel I’m contributing on the pitch. I’m going through my coaching badges just now as well, so it’s good knowing that as well as seeing me as part of the football staff, they’re also encouraging me to look at the coaching staff.
“I’ll be doing a bit of coaching here because it goes hand in hand with my badges but my primary focus is playing. There will come a point when I need to create time to get on with the process of doing my badges, whether that’s in the evenings with the academy or whatever.
“I wouldn’t have thought I’d have been seen as a priority [to get me signed up] but I take it as a big compliment,” he added. “The way I’ve conducted myself since I’ve been at the club, the way I go about my business – I always try and be as professional as I can, so it’s a big boost for me.”