Bittersweet feeling for Locke as players get call-up

MANAGER Gary Locke was not sure whether to laugh or cry this week after he read the list of Hearts players who had been selected for international duty with Scotland.

Among the 11 youngsters chosen to represent various age groups, six Tynecastle players have been included in the Under-21 squad which will face England at Sheffield United’s Bramall Lane on Tuesday evening.

Goalkeeper Jack Hamilton and defender Brad McKay have been called up for the first time, joining clubmates Kevin McHattie, Jason Holt, Jamie Walker and David Smith for the trip to South Yorkshire.

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The selections have come as a massive feather in Hearts’ cap, and Locke is delighted that such recognition has been given to so many products of the club’s youth academy.

At the same time, it has left him frustrated, as their absence will disrupt preparations for Hearts’ Premiership clash with Partick Thistle just three days after the Under-21 game. The SPFL fixture at Firhill has been moved to Friday evening to accommodate live screening by BBC Alba, and Locke will be anxious that all his players return intact.

“It is a curse because I am only left with about four players!” he says. “We can’t even get a game of five-a-sides.

“It is fantastic for the club. It’s not often you get the chance to play in a Scotland–England game, but we have a massive game on the Friday and it doesn’t really help me preparing for that game.

“As a young kid yourself, you dreamed of playing for Scotland and I certainly wouldn’t stand in anybody’s way.

“Six for the 21s, three with the 16s and two with the 19s. We have never had six in the 21s, but with the way the boys have been going they are good players and they are going to get international recognition. I am delighted for them – but it is going to be a difficult week leading up to the Thistle game.

“No doubt about it, you get a lift when you play for your country, and the fact they are playing England as well. But I am just hopeful they get through the game injury free and report back fit and healthy for the Friday night.

“I think I will go down and see them. It isn’t every week you have six people getting international recognition, and big Davie [Weir] might be able to put us up for the night. Only right that we go down and are represented for the game…”

Meanwhile, Locke goes into today’s derby match anxious to end a winless run against Hibs, who were unbeaten in five capital clashes last season. The memory of the last one, at Tynecastle in May, when the Easter Road side came from behind to win 2-1, remains fresh in the Gorgie manager’s mind.

“We didn’t play well and we got what we deserved that day, because we didn’t turn up,” he says. “We will have to play better in this one. The thing is, Hibs have added good, experienced players, boys who can play in the SPL. So it is probably going to be even harder this time. We need to match them and hopefully we can get the result everybody wants.”