Harry Cochrane insists he is fit and ready to end a rollercoaster campaign on a soaring high – as Hearts manager Craig Levein claimed he would have no qualms about pitching the talented teenager into the Scottish Cup final.
The 17-year-old was always prepared for second-season syndrome, with coaching staff at Tynecastle warning him of growing pains, niggling injuries and increased competition for places.
So it has proved. Cochrane, who has suffered five niggling injuries this season, has made only five outings, albeit against Celtic twice, Rangers twice and Dundee, illustrating the high esteem in which Levein holds the player. That compares to 24 appearances in his 2017-18 breakthrough year.
However, Cochrane turned in a bright cameo against Rangers on Saturday. Indeed, his willingness to get on the ball and attempt to make things happen was arguably the only note of positivity to come from the capital club’s 3-1 defeat.
He said: “I feel this is as good a shape I’ve been in all season. I had a few injuries at the start of the campaign and they did knock me back a little bit. But I did know this season would be a little bit like this. The coaches here told me ‘your second year WILL be the toughest’ so I have been ready for the challenges. That is how it has turned out, but I’m still determined to work hard and get back in the team.
“The staff at Hearts have always been there for me, talking me through things and giving me guidance; don’t get too high, don’t get too low. That has helped me keep a level head.
“The gaffer [Levein] is always speaking to me as well, he never just walks by in the corridor and I’ve always felt a part of things.
“The focus is now on getting more games under my belt during the run-in.”
A turbulent campaign for the gifted playmaker started last summer when his pre-season preparations were interrupted by an ankle strain and Levein revealed on Saturday that Cochrane has gone on to suffer FIVE separate injuries.
But the youngster is far from downbeat and believes the travails and the extra hours in the gym will prove to be formative as he attempts to add physicality to his undeniable finesse.
He laughed: “I’ve been putting in the hours in the gym all year so hopefully I’ll turn up next season looking like a beast!
“I need to get a wee bit bigger and that would maybe help to stop some of the niggling injuries; those knocks and pains.”
The promise illustrated during his outing against Rangers has catapulted Cochrane into Levein’s thinking for the final weeks of the season, which culminates with the Hampden showdown with Celtic on 25 May.
He has already lifted silverware this term after helping Hearts win the Reserve Cup with a 2-0 triumph over Motherwell on 1 April. While a modest achievement by comparison, it has only served to whet his appetite for what is to come next month.
Cochrane said: “I want to play EVERY game. Sadly, it doesn’t always work out like that but that’s my aim and I can hopefully make an impact if the gaffer calls on me again.
“I’ve won the Reserve Cup this season and you can’t beat that feeling of celebrating on the pitch with the boys. It gives you a taste for it and hopefully I can experience that again with the first team.”
Cochrane can also boast a man-of-the-match display and goal against Celtic, having inspired the Jambos to a 4-0 victory at Tynecastle in December 2017 – at the age of 16. That result famously ended a 69-game unbeaten run for Brendan Rodgers’ Invincibles.
While Levein is reluctant to take any risks with the midfielder, he would have no fears about fielding Cochrane at the national stadium if he makes his mark in the final four league matches of the season.
Levein said: “I need to be careful with Harry. Although he is a tough wee bugger, he is not physically capable of defending himself. I’ve been looking after him a little bit. But he did quite well when he came on against Rangers and I’ve enough faith in him to know that if I put him into the final he would deal with it no bother.”