Hearts boss Robbie Neilson keen to lose even more players to international call-ups as he reveals Craig Gordon sacrifice

Looking ahead to this Saturday’s head-to-head with Rangers, Hearts manager Robbie Neilson admits he was relieved to see all his players return to the fold unscathed by their international adventures.

But he says he can’t wait for the day when an even bigger proportion of his squad is called into action by their countries.

The Tynecastle gaffer is already likely to be without the injured Craig Halkett, who is targeting next week’s Conference League match with Fiorentina for his return, and he was on tenterhooks waiting to see if the injury list would grow, but he says that helping signings make the leap from club to international football is one of the Gorgie outfit’s selling points and helps motivates more than those already involved.

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“This is a place with a pathway to international football. Over the years, Hearts have produced a lot of international players. For the last four or five years, we have not done that but now we are starting to get them back again. It’s important.

Hearts manager Robbie Neilson (right) with new Australian cap Cammy Devlin. Photo by Mark Scates / SNS Group

“I would love to get to a stage where, in an international break, we are losing 10-15 players to internationals. Although you can’t work on training [due to a lack of numbers], it shows the stock of the players and the club that we are getting these guys to that level.”

Cammy Devlin joined Nathaniel Atkinson in the Australian line-up as they defeated New Zealand, while Craig Gordon welcomed Stephen Kingsley and Barrie McKay into the Scotland camp.

"That's something we speak about a lot when we sign players. Cammy Devlin is a prime example. We said: 'The job is to come and do well here, give yourself a platform to get into your national team.' He's managed to get his first cap. Hopefully he does well for us and can force his way into that World Cup squad.”

But, captain Gordon is the primary example for those looking to get the nod from Scotland boss Steve Clarke.

“The mark of him is that he had the game the other night and his partner just had a kid so we told him to take a couple of days off but he turned up today for training because he wants to be ready for the weekend and to keep himself going. He’s already talking about the game against Turkey in November. He was telling me that will take him to X caps. Then the next ones are in March. So he’s really driven to try and get as many caps and keep playing for as long as he can.

“Then we've got Lewis [Neilson] in there [ Under-21s], Connor Smith as well. Finlay Pollock was with the Under-19s. There are a lot of good players coming through. We had a period when I got a Scotland cap where players were just getting them and the level wasn't as good. Now it's gone up a lot.”

Getting comfortable with games at international and also European level this term, has, he hopes, helped Hearts prepare for Saturday’s tussle with Rangers.

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“I think when you play these big games, the more you do it, the more you learn how to cope with them. Saturday is a massive, massive game for us, but it is one that the players will be ready for, that’s for sure.”

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