One luminous light shining through Hearts’ cloudy start to the season is the teenager Andy Irving.
Steadily improving performances have propelled the 19-year old ahead of Oliver Bozanic, Harry Cochrane, Olly Lee and Bobby Burns in the queue for midfield places. Another loan move now would be a massive shock.
Irving has impressed sufficiently to render that possibility almost non-existent. His display in Sunday’s defeat at Celtic Park was perhaps his finest yet; another on a curve taking a continual upward trajectory as he strives to become a first-team regular. Like any teen, he is still learning his trade but he is learning fast, and quicker than some peers.
Irving returned from a loan spell at Falkirk in January this year but did not feature for Hearts’ first team until the final game of the last campaign – also at Parkhead. He has added more grit and hustle to his cultured left foot and passing range to start five of the Edinburgh club’s eight competitive games this term. Hearts are joint-bottom of the Ladbrokes Premiership and yet to convince as a team, but Irving offers signs of encouragement.
“I’ve definitely had the opportunities,” he told the Evening News. “Sunday was my second time playing at Celtic Park. It’s a great ground and a great experience playing against a good team. I got chances in the Betfred Cup and I played at Aberdeen in the first league game, so I’ve been delighted.
“I think I’ve done alright. The things I need to get better at, game-by-game... I’ve seen slight improvements from watching the footage. That’s the dirtier side of the game, winning the ball back, understanding my role, not just always trying to pass the ball. I feel I’m improving.
“The coaches said they feel I’ve got better in each game. They feel I’ve improved on the defensive side, I’m mixing it up and not just passing constantly. As Foxy says, sometimes you need to play the game and not simply play how you want to play. That’s quite good advice.”
He signed an extended contract a month ago. “I’ve played more games than I thought I would and I feel I’m in a good position at the moment. Hopefully I’m showing the manager enough that I can stay and be a part of his squad this season.
“I signed another year on top of what I already had, so I’m here until 2021. I’ve got the rest of this season plus the season after.” Not only is it some security for the player, it is also a clear sign that Hearts believe in him. “I think so. I was delighted when the club offered me the new deal.
“I’m delighted that I’m playing for Hearts. It’s been my dream to play for Hearts since I was really young. It is just about constant improvement. You can’t dwell on anything. You can’t think, ‘I played decent today’ because you are instantly thinking about the next game.
“When I scored my first goal against Dundee United, it was an unbelievable night but you don’t really have time to think: ‘I’ve just scored for Hearts.’ Everything is coming so quick, the next game is approaching and you’re trying to progress. It didn’t help that I got sent off as well.”
He offers a smirk, although collectively there hasn’t been too much for Hearts to smile about so far this season.
“We’ve had two tough games away to Aberdeen and Celtic. We let a win go at Aberdeen. Drawing at home to Ross County was unacceptable as people stated, but we need to stay positive. In all our games, apart from County, we have shown good signs of the players we have in the changing room. I think this team will gel and become what it is on paper. We do have a lot of top players. I look up to them and I know all the other boys do. I believe it will come together, 100 per cent.”