Don Cowie challenges Hearts youngsters to maintain standards
Both youngsters were instrumental in helping the Tynecastle side bank nine out of nine points in an impressive week that included a startling result against Celtic and has pushed them up the Premiership table and given them fresh confidence as they head back out on the road this weekend to begin a run of games before the winter break against St Johnstone away, Hibs at home and Aberdeen at Pittodrie.
“It just shows you what can happen in football,” said Cowie, as he and his colleagues visited Edinburgh’s Royal Hospital for Sick Children yesterday. There were smiles on faces as the players spread festive cheer, handing out gifts they had paid for and delivering 11 DVD players, donated to the wards by the club. And that only added to the joy they sparked in their fans with the momentous 4-0 win over the defending league champions on Sunday.
“It gives us real momentum going into these three tough games during the festive period,” added Cowie, aware of the difficulty of the task but also full of belief that they can extend their unbeaten run. “Just the magnitude of Sunday, the record being broken, I have never played in a game like that where we have stopped a run of such greatness, really. You have to applaud Celtic and what they have achieved, the consistency. But I think it was just the manner of the result. You can sneak a game 1-0 or whatever, but the fact it was 4-0. It was a momentous day and it has given the whole club a lift.”
Cochrane, pictured inset, commanded much of the attention, scoring the opening goal and producing a performance beyond his years but while Cowie predicts big things for him, he says another measure of the youngsters is how they cope with the highs as well as the lows.
“That’s the pressure you need to deal with as a footballer. We have a lot of young players and what’s more important is how you react after beating Celtic.
“It’s great we won the game and the plaudits that came from it, especially for the young boys. But now we’ll go to St Johnstone [on Saturday] with 5-6,000 at the game and that’s where you really get tested. We need to stand up to it and make sure we are ready for it.”
He admits that he sees little of his 16-year-old self in the current crop of Hearts teenagers. Happy to join in with the dressing-room banter and willing to say their piece and engage their elders in conversation, he says that assurance stops short of cockiness and impresses him. “At 16 I would have been hiding in a corner!”
Although they have found their voice, Cowie believes it is their football ability that speaks volumes, as they make the most of the platform they have been given.
“Of course they will fill out physically. But when I was 16 I wasn’t even contemplating first-team football. They are in because of their ability. Everything else will happen in due course, but they have a great attitude and are a breath of fresh air. They take the advice that’s given and it was great to see the rewards there for them on Sunday.
“The club is in a great place. I know that’s easy to say after three wins in a week, but it is true. We’ve had that spell with Jamie Walker, Sam Nicholson and Callum Paterson coming through and I’m sure the club are just as excited about the current group coming through.
“It isn’t just Harry and Ant. There are half a dozen – maybe ten – who are champing at the bit to get involved. We’ve said how exciting a time it is and, when you aren’t winning people might say ‘it’s not exciting’. But when the results start to turn, and these young players are involved, then it is exciting. A lot of the boys are training with us now on a daily basis and we see their quality first-hand so we are confident they are ready if the manager picks them.”
And while they are benefitting from the experience of Cowie, captain Christophe Berra and other seasoned pros, the older players have been boosted by their emergence. “They drive us on because, if we don’t step up, they will take our place. That’s the reality of it. But it’s only natural that, as a more experienced player, you try to help them, and give advice. And the good thing is that they take that on board.”