HEARTS manager Gary Locke knows that his young squad would write a chapter in the club’s history books if they could claw their way back from the 15-point deficit imposed on them before a ball was even kicked this term.
But when it comes to club legends, Brad McKay believes the current players need to emulate a key trait of his boyhood hero before they can even hope to earn that status.
As a young fan, it was Steven Pressley who stood out as the ideal role model for the young defender. The captain, the organiser, the leader on and off the pitch, McKay says that starting against St Johnstone in Perth today, every man in the squad has to show the same willingness to shoulder responsibility if they are to have any hope of beating the drop.
“I loved him, he was a warrior,” says McKay of Pressley. “He loved Hearts and maybe his career at Hearts didn’t end great but he was a favourite of mine,” adds the 20-year-old, who managed just two first-team league appearances last term but has been involved in every pre-season match and looks pivotal to this season’s Tynecastle rearguard.
“When I was a young kid I used to go to the games and that was the closest I got to him. He was a talker and an organiser on the pitch. That’s like me. That’s what I’m like on the pitch. That’s what you pick up when training with the first team and mixing with the experienced boys. You need to talk and organise and you have to be a leader, we need that all over the pitch, no matter how old you are.”
Pressley was club captain during the turbulent final days of the Chris Robinson era. Then, like now, matters off the park often threatened to overshadow anything that was happening on it. Pressley was also the man charged with keeping the dressing room united when the fickleness of new owner Vladimir Romanov threatened to demean their endeavours and hack away at morale. It led to the “Riccarton Three” episode and the accelerated departure of Pressley when he and team-mates Craig Gordon and Paul Hartley spoke out against Romanov.
As the club battles through its toughest time, McKay says it is up to everyone to show the same dignity, determination and unity. “He was obviously older when he was here. He was an experienced head and he took Andy Webster under his wing. I have watched all the Hearts DVDs and Webby used to come into the dressing room and he used to say ‘all right Webster?’ Webster was that kind of influence last season on us, so Steven being like that flowed all the way down to me and now from me down to the younger boys, and then even younger boys.”
While Webster is currently training with his former club, there is no scope to re-enlist him, with the SFA extending a signing embargo, ensuring that even if the Gorgie team can exit administration ahead of the January window, there is no hope of plumping up a young squad with some older and wiser players.
“This season we all have to grow up,” admits McKay. “We all have to take responsibility. Everybody has to be ready. There are a lot of young boys, especially compared to last season when I was young and new to the squad. We had Webster and [Marius] Zaliukas and [Danny] Grainger and I felt young but now, in training, I feel old compared to the young boys here.
“Players are going to have to play out of position and play wherever they are asked to play but everybody at the club has the mentality that they will do anything for the team, which is what needs to happen.”
But while he hopes they can all summon up the spirit of his hero, he knows that emulating the look may be beyond many of them. “I’ve got a beard but all the young boys are clean shaven – they probably can’t grow beards!”