Dale Carrick is leading a double life. By day he helps develop the next generation of Hearts stars. By night, he trains with Airdrieonians and, on Saturday, he will lead the Diamonds attack as they attempt to knock the struggling Tynecastle side out of the Scottish Cup.
Carrick, 26, is combining his playing duties at Airdrie with coaching the capital club’s under-14s side at Riccarton as he tentatively considers life after playing.
It adds just another layer of intrigue ahead of Carrick’s fourth-round showdown with the club he represented for ten years after a debut as a fresh-faced youngster.
However, aside from light-hearted suspicions that he may be a spy, he is adamant his dual role has only served to make the build-up more enjoyable.
Carrick explained: “My main feeling is excitement about playing Hearts, because I work for them on a day-to-day basis at the academy.
“It will be good to see those familiar faces that I see during the week at Riccarton on a game day. It hasn’t been a strange one. It’s been funny more than anything. The other coaches just keep going ‘shhhh, here he comes, don’t mention the game…’
“It’s just been a bit of banter but not a serious dilemma.
“I’m working with Hearts’ under-14 side. Most of the kids that I coach have season tickets, so I’ll get the chance to see them at the game, too. Hopefully, I’m not getting too much abuse from them!
“I thought beginning coaching so early in my career would be a bonus, especially since I’m not sure what I’d like to do when I stop playing. I knew this would be beneficial to my development and I owe a lot to Hearts for giving me the opportunity and helping me go through my [coaching] badges.”
While Carrick may sport Hearts colours on the training pitch, he has not stepped onto the Tynecastle turf as a player since leaving the club to join former Gorgie manager Gary Locke at Kilmarnock in the summer of 2015.
He had notched five goals in nine Premiership fixtures for Hearts under Locke towards the end of the 2013-14 campaign, including a memorable strike against Hibs at Tynecastle in a derby the Gorgie side had to win to avoid being relegated by their greatest rivals.
Injuries limited his opportunities in the Championship-winning season that followed and he made the decision to pursue first-team football elsewhere after slipping down the pecking order under Robbie Neilson, Locke’s successor at Hearts.
He continued to be hampered by injuries during his time at Rugby Park and a subsequent stint with Livingston, during which he was farmed out on loan to Cowdenbeath. However, Carrick does not look back in anger.
“I don’t have any regrets about the way things ended at Hearts,” he said. “I wanted to play regularly and, at that age, you need to take the plunge and chase first-team football.
“I still believe that was the right decision for me at the time. There’s no bitterness, only appreciation that I can come back to Tynecastle – because I haven’t had that opportunity since leaving Hearts.
“My mum, Michaela, has asked for 10 tickets as well so it’ll be a special occasion.”
On current form, you wouldn’t bet against Carrick coming back to haunt his former employers. The striker has been reborn since joining Airdrie and, now fully fit and firing, is displaying the form which made him so highly-rated as a kid at Hearts.
He has scored ten goals in his last 12 outings and reckons his foray into coaching has benefitted his all-round game.
“Doing that job has given me a lot more understanding of the game,” he explained. “I have more of an awareness of the positional and tactical aspects of the match – whereas you sometimes don’t give that a lot of thought when you are just focusing on your own play.
“Airdrie have given me a platform to hit my personal goals of getting a lot of game-time and, recently, I’ve been hitting the net regularly, which was my next aim. I’ve hit a rich vein of form and I’m grateful for them giving me that chance to excel.”