Hearts defender Craig Halkett today declared himself ready and waiting for a Scotland call-up.
Overlooked for national coach Steve Clarke’s latest squad on Wednesday, the 24-year-old told the Evening News he is eager to seize any international opportunity that comes his way.
Following this weekend’s club fixtures, Clarke may add an extra centre-back to his pool for next month’s European Championship qualifiers against Russia and Belgium. He will monitor Halkett’s display for Hearts against Hamilton tomorrow but is also considering the Sheffield Wednesday loanee David Bates and Aberdeen’s Mikey Devlin.
Morton manager David Hopkin, who helped launch Halkett’s senior career at Livingston, said on these pages last week that his former captain should already be in the Scotland squad.
The player isn’t brazen enough to make such a claim about himself. He only ever represented his country once at under-19 level but had no problem stressing he now feels ready and able for senior international football. “Yes, 100 per cent. You have to back yourself. If the call came, I’d be absolutely delighted,” he said. “Getting called up by your national team is one of the main things you aim for in your playing career. I would be over the moon if it happened. It would be one of the highlights of my career so far. I definitely feel ready if the call came. I would grasp it with both hands.
“I read David Hopkin’s piece with you and I actually phoned him to thank him because it was a nice thing he said. Last year was a really successful year for Livingston as a team and for me individually. A lot of people were talking about me getting a Scotland call-up but it never came.
“It was my first year in the Premiership playing at the top level of Scottish football, so I wasn’t really expecting it if I’m honest. It was just nice to hear my name being mentioned in that bracket along with all those players. That was good for my career.
“To have the same again since I’ve started at Hearts is great. I didn’t get too disappointed when I wasn’t in the squad this week. I’ve only been at Hearts for a few months. If I can keep my performances up and play the way I’ve been playing, maybe it will come in the future.”
Halkett has made a storming start to his Hearts career on the back of an imperious first season in the Premiership with Livingston. Three goals in seven appearances underline the rarity of a goalscoring defender, but commanding aerial ability, tackling and positional sense have also stood out.
Supporters at Tynecastle Park have warmed to him quickly, although he is taken aback by the adulation. “I would say a wee bit, yeah,” admitted Halkett. “It’s a lot different at Hearts to what it was last year. You are expected to win a lot more games, if not them all. It’s good to get some praise when it comes.
“I’ve had wee messages on social media. It’s always good to see your name when people are saying positive things about you. I like reading that. You get some negative ones as well but I try not to get too high with the positives or too low with the negatives. All the Hearts fans welcomed me massively as soon as I came through the door and it’s really appreciated. When you have the crowd behind you on and off the park, it’s a big help.”
The fact Halkett has drawn praise amid the groans which have accompanied Hearts’ start to the season proves his prowess. Team-mate John Souttar is a Scotland squad member when fit but is currently injured, leaving Halkett and Christophe Berra developing their partnership in central defence at Tynecastle. That will continue tomorrow when Hamilton visit Gorgie.
The game begins a sequence of four home matches out of six for Hearts. The club sit joint-bottom of the Premiership and badly need points to climb the league. There is also the not-insignificant matter of next month’s Betfred Cup quarter-final against Aberdeen.
Tomorrow is seen as a potential launchpad for the season. “It’s really important to pick up three points in the game before the international break,” said Halkett. “It’s been disappointing that we haven’t picked up a win yet, so it’s hugely important we do that.
“The manager and everyone in the squad know we need to go and get a win on Saturday. Every game at Hearts is really important but, with the run of games we have coming up, we have to look to win them all or at least the majority. We want to try and get a run going.
“When you win a game or two, it’s vital to pick up that momentum and keep it going as long as possible. Everyone in the league knows how tough it is to get three points. If you can get two or three wins going, it can carry you up the table. That’s what we are aiming for, starting tomorrow.”