Andy Irving spent last term trying to shut out the Falkirk fans’ discontent, which is possibly why he has remained fairly impervious to the current unrest at Tynecastle.
Loaned out to gain first-team experience at the Championship club in the first half of last season, the Hearts teenager says the experience helped toughen him up physically and mentally, as one of the favourites to win promotion instead slumped.
It sent fans into a frenzy and, while the young midfielder was back at Hearts by the time Falkirk’s relegation to League 1 was sealed, he was there long enough to feel the wrath of fans unhappy to see their side coming up short.
“It was obviously tough because we were a big club in that league and we weren’t performing anywhere near where we should have been. The fans there were furious with what was happening and it was difficult to deal with at the time but you just get on with it. And it made me mentally stronger.
“You have to have the confidence and belief that everything will turn out the way you hope. It was an eye-opener but I wouldn’t change it, because it was a good experience and it helped me massively. But it was a tough six months.”
While Falkirk faltered, Irving and his thicker skin returned to Hearts, where his efforts were rewarded with a start in the final league outing, against Celtic, and he has built on that with regular involvement in the first team this season.
But that has meant numbing himself to the unrest in the stands, stoked by a poor start to the campaign.
Despite making it through to the League Cup quarter finals, Hearts are still awaiting their first Premiership win. Having lost twice, in two difficult away games, against Aberdeen and Celtic, it is the poor home displays, resulting in draws with Ross County and Hamilton, that have infuriated the fans.
“It’s obviously tough [to play in that atmosphere] but, like a lot of young guys, and [Aaron] Hickey will be the same, you just want to go out and play football. That’s your mentality.
“When I came back this summer I felt stronger physically and that I had a better understanding of my role in the team and defensively and stuff. That came to me more naturally as time went on.
“I’m still improving. I still need to get a lot better but I do feel those two loan stints helped me a lot and that I am better for it.
“But I have belief and so does everyone else that this will work out the way we want it to. We have a really good squad.
“Yes you need to mature a bit quicker because it is very cut-throat and there’s a lot of pressure. But at the end of the day I just enjoy going out and playing football and the pressure is good. You know what you are coming into here. Hearts is a massive club and the fans expect us to win all the time and the players here have the highest standards so that drives everyone on and I think the pressure helps everyone because it kicks you on and helps you as well.”
They will need to meet the level of expectation today, as they host Motherwell. Key to the morale, as they head into the upcoming derby and then the League Cup head-to-head with Aberdeen for a semi-final spot, a win is also needed to start moving them up the league table.
“A win will lift everything and bring positivity back into everyone,” acknowledges Irving, “including the fans. Three points is massive and hopefully that’s what we get.”