'I couldn't do it': Hearts boss Steven Naismith in awe of Airdrie's Rhys McCabe as ex-Rangers team-mates meet again in cup

Just 31-years-old, the Diamonds manager is making waves with Airdrieonians and the in-form Jambos will treat them with respect

Steven Naismith may be viewed as one of Scottish football’s younger managers at 37-years-old, yet he will come up against someone six years his junior in the dugout on Sunday evening when Hearts travel to Airdrieonians in the fifth round of the Scottish Cup.

Rhys McCabe, just 31, took over the Diamonds in the summer of 2022 as player/manager from Ian Murray and has had a major impact. Airdrieonians won promotion to the Championship last season via the play-offs and are currently fifth in that division, more than holding their own. McCabe has received plaudits for the way his team plays and they defeated Premiership opposition in St Johnstone last month to set up a date with Hearts.

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McCabe and Naismith were team-mates at Rangers in 2011 and Naismith sees a lot of McCabe’s playing style in the way Airdrieonians. "He was a young player at Rangers when I was there,” said the Hearts manager. “His team plays like he was as a player. He wasn't blessed with great pace but he had a really good touch, good positional play and he could see passes. I think his team is very much like that. It's a good footballing team, they work hard but they are brave and aggressive when they attack.”

Rhys McCabe combines player and manager duties for Airdrieonians, who face Hearts in the Scottish Cup on Sunday.Rhys McCabe combines player and manager duties for Airdrieonians, who face Hearts in the Scottish Cup on Sunday.
Rhys McCabe combines player and manager duties for Airdrieonians, who face Hearts in the Scottish Cup on Sunday.

Naismith is in awe of how McCabe juggles playing and managing. “I couldn't do it,” he said. “I think it would be tough. I'd probably fall out with too many people! As a player I was a bit angrier than I am as a coach.” McCabe has played 19 times for the Diamonds and has scored three goals. He is almost as important to the team on the pitch as he is off it. His Hearts counterpart has been impressed by his maturity.

"By the way, when he takes the job, I don't think he had the overall backing of everybody,” continued Naismith. “People were questioning the decision so it's a credit to him that he's gone in there and people are talking about him as a good up-and-coming coach who has got a style, who is brave enough to do that and not be reactive when a couple of results don't go your way. I think that's the biggest thing I've taken into coaching from managers that I've had is that you need to fully believe in what you are doing. If you lose three on the bounce, you can't change up because if you change up, you lose all your credibility with the squad, the fans. He's somebody in the same position as myself. He's a young coach who is trying to develop something and has had some adversity but is coming through it. It's a clear message that it works.”

Naismith alluded to how he was under pressure not so long ago but on a ten-man winning run and clear in third place in the Premiership, Hearts are in a good place. They will take nothing for granted in front of the BBC cameras, though. "They do try and play,” Naismith added. “I don't think they've changed much at all from any opposition they've played. They played St Johnstone in the last round and didn't change. We know they are comfortable in possession and have good movement to cause you problems. That's what we'll need to guard against but we do definitely see opportunity that we can cause them some problems.”