The 35-year-old striker was left out by previous manager Tommy Wright whenever his former club St Johnstone visited a club with a plastic pitch after a surgeon advised that he should only play on grass in the wake of knee problems he suffered in seasons 2012-13 and 2014-15.
This policy of sitting out games on synthetic surfaces was expected to continue at Hearts, which would have ruled him out of the first two away games in the upcoming Premiership campaign, against Hamilton Accies and then Kilmarnock. The sight of MacLean’s name in the starting line-up for Wednesday’s Betfred Cup match away to Cove Rangers, therefore, came as a surprise to most as the Highland League champions’ new Balmoral Stadium features a 4G pitch.
The fact Hearts are not short of players at present following an extensive summer recruitment drive meant manager Craig Levein would have had comfortably enough options to get by without the veteran.
But MacLean coped fine with his rare outing on plastic, leading the Hearts attack to good effect and marking his competitive debut with the decisive goal in a 2-1 victory before being replaced after 65 minutes.
While acknowledging that artificial surfaces are “not ideal”, he insists he has no concerns about playing on them in future and is eager to feature in Hearts’ league opener at SuperSeal Stadium a fortnight on Saturday.
In clarifying his position with regard to such pitches, he said: “I can play! I said to the gaffer that I wanted to play and he picked me. I was going to play, simple as that. Whether he picks me on Saturday (against Raith Rovers), it’s up to him. If he wants me to play, I’ll play. If he wants me to play in the car park, I’ll play in the car park for Hearts. I just want to play games and do well and be enthusiastic. I’m here to play so I’m looking forward to it.”
Asked if he had been prevented from playing on plastic at St Johnstone, he smiled: “Kinda, aye. The gaffer at St Johnstone just took it out of my hands. Whether that’s right or wrong… I might have a message from him now! In all fairness, I made myself available and the gaffer picked me. It’s not ideal but I said to the gaffer that I was comfortable to play. I’ve just been itching to get out there and make my competitive debut.”
When asked if that desire to pound the plastic would extend to the trip to Accies, MacLean added: “Aye. I want to play every game now. I’m available for selection.”
MacLean broke his duck for Hearts with a poacher’s finish on Wednesday but was disappointed with the one that got away after he had a first-half goal chalked off.
“I could have had another couple,” he said. “I don’t know if I was offside, but I thought it was a decent finish to be fair. I told the lino at half-time I was onside, but I just lied! I was just winding him up. But when you come to a new club, you want to get off the mark, whether that’s in a cup game or the league.”
Hearts know the importance of maintaining full focus in the Betfred Cup after they suffered an ignominious group-stage exit under Ian Cathro a year ago. With Inverness currently top of Group C with a perfect record and due to visit Tynecastle in a potential section decider a week on Sunday, MacLean is well aware of the importance of winning Saturday’s game against Raith Rovers in Methil and then defeating Cowdenbeath in Gorgie next Tuesday.
“This is a chance to win a cup,” he said. “If you get through these group stages, you’re three games from a final – simple as that. We had a chat about it and the guys did a presentation on it. We need to get to the next round to start with and we’ll take it from there.
At the end of the day, Hearts went out last year at this stage so we’ve got make sure we don’t go out. We’ve got to make sure we win on Saturday and next Tuesday, then Inverness the following Sunday. It’ll not be easy, teams will see Hearts as a scalp and that’s why the (Inverness) game is on the TV because they’ll be looking for an upset. We’ve got to make sure our attitude is right.”
Hearts yesterday completed the signing of Republic of Ireland international goalkeeper Colin Doyle, who became Craig Levein’s 13th signing of the summer.
Doyle, 33, who has won four senior caps, has signed a two-year contract at Tynecastle and will compete with fellow newcomer Zdenek Zlamal for the first-team jersey.
He left English League One club Bradford City at the end of last season, having also played for Blackpool, Millwall, Nottingham Forest and Birmingham City.