‘He reminds me of Philip Lahm’ - Steven MacLean pays tribute to Hearts youngster Hickey

Aaron Hickey became the youngster player to start a Scottish Cup final but few in the Hearts dressing room were surprised to see him bestowed with that honour or shocked to see him rise to the occasion so effortlessly.
Hearts' Aaron Hickey. Pic: SNS/Craig FoyHearts' Aaron Hickey. Pic: SNS/Craig Foy
Hearts' Aaron Hickey. Pic: SNS/Craig Foy

Describing him as calm and composed, the experienced Steven MacLean, a man twenty years his senior said he also saw hints of a world cup winner in the starlet’s play and demeanour.

“The young lads were fantastic. Young Hickey has some future. To come in and play like that at 16 years old is incredible.

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“The kid is so calm and composed. Do you know what foot he kicks with? No, we don’t either. He is so two-footed. He reminds me of Philip Lahm the way he plays.

“He didn’t show any nerves. He was told on Friday [that he would be in the team] but it didn’t bother him. He wasn’t up nor down about it.

“But if you are good enough you’re old enough!”

The chance to shine in one of the season’s showcase events vindicated the young full-back’s decision to return to Hearts after a four year hiatus - at Celtic, where he would have had to oust Scotland star Kieran Tierney.

“I was with Hearts when I was younger but went to Celtic for four years before going back.

“I just felt I would get more opportunities at Hearts because it’s even tougher to get your chance at Celtic. It was a big decision but I felt things might work out for me better at Tynecastle.”

And the rise has been steep and swift and one he could not have imagined the last time he turned out at the national stadium, in a more low key role.

“The last time I was on the pitch here I was 14 doing a half-time challenge where you run from the half-way line and try to score. So it’s brilliant to be back here a few years later, playing in a massive game like this.”

Colleague Ryan Edwards knows all about changing fortunes. A guy who was part of a relegated Partick Thistle team consigned to a new season in the Championship, he moved to Ttynecastle in the summer but has had to bide his time. After a loan spell at St Mirren, he slipped back into the shadows but for a period of yesterday’s final, he looked like being the unlikeliest of heroes.

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Back in the fold in recent weeks due to injuries, he was given a start at Hampden and used his energy and pace to close down Celtic and offer his team-mates options in attack and support in defence.

The scorer of the game’s opening goal, the dream headlines were not to be as Celtic battled back but the Aussie midfielder says it proves to the manager and the fans what he is capable of as they look ahead to the new campaign.

“The relegation with Partick on the last day of last season was sore to take and I would never have imagined I would be starting a cup final 12 months later. I feel much better now compared to then.

“I know it’s hard to take losing the cup final but this is a really positive time for the club, especially considering it was in administration five years ago.

“It’s been a roller-coaster season for me but I’m so grateful to have started in a cup final for such a prestigious club with such a big history.

“When I came back from St Mirren I really wanted to force my way into the team. It’s taken much longer than I wanted but I really believe I can play for this club.

“That was my fifth appearance and my team-mates see me in training but I’ve been dying to get a chance to show the fans what I can do. Hopefully I have done well enough to be in the plans for next season.”

The defeat was a sore one but Edwards is confident the current squad, with a sprinkling of fresh recruits can build on the final appearance.

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“I’m confident we can bounce back - look at the start we made to the season and that’s one semi-final and a final. It’s fine margins.

“‘The club have said we won’t sign a large number of players but if we can improve the squad in one or two areas and re-sign Steven Naismith then we can really push on.

“Hearts need to be in the top three or four, in Europe, and challenging in cup finals.”

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