Now, however, the emergence of more youngsters, allied to the arrivals of Liverpool fringe men Danny Wilson and Michael Ngoo, has left manager John McGlynn spoiled for choice all over the park.
The luxury of choosing to leave seasoned SPL campaigners such as Mehdi Taouil, Darren Barr, John Sutton and Andy Driver on the bench – as he did against Dundee on Wednesday night – was one he could hardly have imagined possible just a few short months ago.
However, such has been the impression made by the burgeoning likes of Jamie Walker, Jason Holt, Dylan McGowan, Fraser Mullen, Callum Tapping, and, most recently, Billy King, the senior players are no longer guaranteed a jersey. Indeed, many of the kids are set to keep their places for today’s SPL trip to Ross County.
“With all these boys coming in, we’ve now got real competition for places,” he said. “Unfortunately for Darren, he was suspended for the semi-final and the team did exceptionally well, so he’ll need to fight his way back into the team. Ryan Stevenson was perhaps a touch fortunate to go straight back into the team because of Scott Robinson being suspended. That’s what we want though – it’s healthy. It shows everyone that if they find themselves out the team for whatever reason, they’ll find it hard to get back in now. The younger lads have got the jerseys now and they need to continue to play well and keep showing a great attitude because they’ve got a great opportunity to play in a cup final.”
McGlynn insists he has not been surprised by the positive impact the kids have had on the team in recent games. “These boys are all part of our first-team squad and have been training with the us all season,” he said. “A lot of them have played in the Under-21 games and I’ve been to virtually every Under-21 game, so I knew the potential they all had.
“All it needed was the right time to put them in. Although the semi-final was a big game, I felt it was the right time to throw in the likes of Callum and Fraser and they’ve looked as if they’ve been playing in the first team for a long time. I’m delighted at how well they’ve adapted, but I’m not surprised.
“They have shown a great temperament, which is as important as having the ability to play. You’ve got to have the mentality to stay strong when things go against you. They showed they have that in the semi-final when they went down to ten men. They kept a good shape, stayed strong and didn’t crumble, which is just as important as whether or not they can pick a pass. They showed their mentality again against Dundee on Wednesday when they stuck to the task and stayed patient until they got the winner. It’s very reassuring and comforting knowing that we’ve got young players who can handle these situations. Hopefully we’re now in a better position to get a bit of consistency in the league and kick on up the table.”
There seems to have been a never-ending flow of youngsters into the Hearts first team this season, but McGlynn admits he probably has enough youngsters in his first-team squad for now. “We’ve probably raided the youth ranks enough for now,” he said. “On top of the boys who played the other night, there’s Dale Carrick, Callum Paterson and Kevin McHattie, so that’s plenty for the time being.”