The elevation to first choice keeper was something Jack Hamilton has been working towards since he was listed in the Hearts substitutes back in 2011. But when he turned up for pre-season he was surprised to learn that dream had become a reality.
“When I came in, I went into the kit room and I had a wee joke with the kit man and I asked, ‘where’s my kit?’ He said, ‘it’s up at number one’ and I said, ‘ach, away you go’. He said, ‘no, really it’s up at number one’. It was a real shock and the gaffer pulled me aside and I had a chat with him. He said he was going to give me that chance and I appreciate that from him.”
Competition arrived in the shape of Viktor Noring and player/coach Paul Gallacher but the 22-year-old has retained his starting spot.
“I’m just trying to take it a game or a training session at a time to be honest with you, and trying to improve as a goalkeeper,” said Hamilton. “Getting that Scotland call-up in the summer was brilliant for me. It was brilliant to go away and learn from those in front of me. To just be around the squad was brilliant, then the gaffer telling me he was going to give me a chance has given me great confidence. It’s been great to play games and hopefully I can continue this now.” Speaking at the launch of Oriam, Scotland’s impressive sports complex and centre for excellence, adjoining Hearts’ own football academy, and boasting state of the art sports science and sports medicine facilities, Hamilton will be able to benefit from the high performance wing while on duty for club and country.
It all adds up to an exciting time for the youngster who is delighted simply to be in the fold domestically as well as internationally.
“I knew all the boys from training the previous years. It is not like I have come into a fresh squad and didn’t know anybody – it has been good from that perspective,” he said. “As a younger guy sometimes you are a bit shy but I was really lucky coming through to the Hearts team because we’ve had a lot of the same boys coming through from the 19s.
“There are still a lot of the same boys at the club. We have been together five, six years so you know the other guys, you know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and you can give them a bit of stick and they can give it back so it is good that way.”
Having been called into Gordon Strachan’s Scotland squad for the friendlies against Italy and France in the summer, he is gathering some momentum. Featuring in all the Tynecastle side’s competitive games this term, he has also been called into the national squad for the opening World Cup fixture, against Malta, next weekend. There he will meet up with Craig Gordon and David Marshall, two idols he can now think of as peers.
Both players have the experience of breaking into the first team at a young age, with Marshall catapulted into the spotlight at Celtic as a 19-year-old against Barcelona, while Gordon was a regular at Gorgie from a young age. It means they have experiences that are pertinent to Hamilton.
“You see these guys on the telly and see them playing at the highest levels and you look up to them,” he added. “To then be in their company, you’re a bit star struck. They’re all really nice guys, they help you because they have been in your position before. They’re good for passing on advice.
“Craig wasn’t there in the summer but he is really good. He looks out for me and is the first to send me a text to congratulate me on something and wish me all the best. He is there for advice if needs be.
“It’s good to learn from these people and even going away this summer with David Marshall. When you are out training with him every day and you see the goalkeepers Scotland have got, to be going away with them next week, training with Marshall and Craig will be a real privilege. It is something I’ll learn so much from.”
Getting his first full cap is the next target. “That would be the pinnacle, that’s what you dream of as a young kid ,” said Hamilton. “To be in the squad at Hearts means so much to me and hopefully I can go away, keep improving.”
And as for qualifying for the first major finals since 1998? “You’ve got to have belief in every game you go into, you want to win, whether it be club or country. There are some unbelievable players in the Scotland squad, they’re all excellent players and I’m sure their quality will shine through in the games.”