Aidan Keena is desperate for Steven Naismith to be fit for next month’s Scottish Cup final even if it is likely to cost him a place in the team.
The 19-year-old was a surprise starter in Saturday’s 3-0 Scottish Cup semi-final win over Inverness but wishes Naismith well in his bid to recover from cartilage surgery in time for the final against Celtic. Keena is not being entirely altruistic: he knows the influential striker’s return would boost his own chances of earning a winner’s medal.
Keena has taken advantage in recent weeks of Naismith’s absence and David Vanecek’s continued struggle to get fit enough for first-team duty. Before last weekend, however, most of his appearances were from the bench. He will be happy to return there if Naismith makes the miracle recovery all Hearts fans are praying for.
“We want our best player available and if it means I’m to drop to the bench, so be it,” he said. “I’d rather get a winner’s medal from the bench if it gives us a bigger chance. He [Naismith] told me to enjoy it. All the senior players said to enjoy it and I did.”
Keena is living his life in fast forward but is being given a gradual introduction to Hampden Park, which was his home ground last season while playing for Queen’s Park. He has even played what amounted to a cup final there as his then side lost the second leg of a play-off against Stenhousemuir that relegated Queen’s to the fourth tier. A few hundred watched that fixture while just over 20,000 were at Hampden on Saturday to see Hearts triumph over Inverness. It is guaranteed to be a full house the next time Keena visits.
“A lot of the games last year didn’t have many fans so there was a bit of a better atmosphere on Saturday,” he said. “It was good to actually win a game – we didn’t win too many last year!”
Saturday was comfortably the biggest game the striker has played to date. “Either that or a relegation play-off against Stenhousemuir!” he said.
“It’s been a short 12 months – it’s flown in. The contrast is huge and I’m happy with myself and how it’s been going so far. I was a year younger at 18 and felt that [v Stenhousemuir] was a big game. If you’d told me then I’d be playing in this a year later I wouldn’t have believed you. I think there was about 600 at that game and Saturday was a good 20,000 so you can’t compare it.”
Despite Queen’s Park struggles the Irishman scored eight goals to secure a move to Hearts. He spent earlier this season on loan at Dunfermline before returning in January to Tynecastle, scoring his first goal weeks later in the 4-0 Scottish Cup win over Auchinleck Talbot.
The competition clearly suits him and he plans on being involved in the final, whether Naismith makes it or not.
“We’ve still got big games in the league left, obviously Hibs away, Rangers at home so everyone’s still playing for places,” he said.