Jon Daly does not have much coaching experience but he believes that a 20-year playing career does offer him a valuable insight into what it takes to get results on the pitch.
Placed in interim charge following the sacking of Ian Cathro, the Hearts under-20s coach says the immediate priority is to get the Tynecastle players and the fans smiling again.
It has been a while since performances on the pitch prompted joy in the dressing room or the stands, as a bleak eight-month period yielded just eight wins from 30 competitive games. But with the departure of Cathro, Daly sees an opportunity to alter the mood in the camp.
“Ian has his ideas and he sticks to those ideas. For me, it can be a strength but also a weakness,” said the Irishman.
“You must be able to adapt and change when things aren’t working. There is no question, and I echo what the club said, that Ian is a fantastic young coach. Some of his stuff he does you do learn from and think they’re good ideas. Other stuff you probably think I wouldn’t do that myself.
“That could be said about any coach. If I watched Mourinho I’d pick up some things and others wouldn’t be for me. Each coach finds their own way.”
The question about Cathro from the outset was always how he would fare when it came to man-management, with reports not always flattering in that area, with others claiming he was unable to command the necessary respect as the main man.
“I have learned from my experience as a player that you can’t always give players what they want,” said Daly, when asked how pivotal man-management skills are in getting players to buy into training and tactics and deliver their best performances. “If you give them an inch, they take a mile but, that being said, if you don’t give them anything or are just constantly giving them information you want to give them, then it can feel relentless and players can switch off.
“The training has to have an element of fun and an element of competitiveness so that, when it does come to match day, they know what to expect. Yes, the way you play is important but it comes down to results and what it takes to win games. It comes down to making sure that, if we are going to get beat, we are not a pushover and that we work hard and make sure we are in the other team’s faces and all the other kind of stuff that you would expect from Hearts.”
Handed control of the first team while the club’s hierarchy mull over who should fill the vacancy full-time, Daly makes it clear that he views the spell at the helm as an unofficial audition for the lead role and while he accepted Director of Football Craig Levein’s assessment eight months ago, when it was deemed that the former striker, along with the other coaches already employed by the Gorgie club, was not quite ready to assume responsibility for the first team, Daly believes he has evolved in that time. He says he would accept being overlooked, happy to progress his learning with the U20s, he also is transparent in his goals.
“It’s been an enjoyable responsibility, taking the first-team,” he said. “I had the little bit of it last year against Ross County and it is an ambition of mine to take a first-team. After the County game, it did give me an insight into what it’s about, what’s required. I really enjoyed that. It gave me the ambition to work hard. I’ll learn and work as hard as I can so the team can get back to putting in performances which will get us results. If I do well and the players respond that gives us a chance. If I don’t get it I’ll go back to the 20s which I really enjoy.”
It is a tough opener, away to reigning champions Celtic, but Daly says there is still room for optimism. “We understand it is a really difficult start but we know how we feel we can get at Celtic and where we need to be careful. It’s down to being compact, making sure we don’t get cut open and taking our chances because you are probably only going to get a couple.”
The same could be said of his opportunities to impress. “I said to the players the other day, it is an opportunity for everyone, myself and the players, everyone at the club, to have a clean slate. There are players who haven’t been in the squad who will be put back in and some younger ones, who have been doing well for me, to have an opportunity. It is a chance for all the players to show us that they want to be here and want to work hard.”