Aaron McEneff wants to experience Hibs-Hearts at a full Easter Road as he recalls Kilmarnock and St Mirren trials

Having dipped a toe in Scottish football waters twice previously, Aaron McEneff jumped in with both feet when the opportunity to join Hearts arose.

Aaron McEneff wants to keep his Hearts place.
Aaron McEneff wants to keep his Hearts place.

The Irish midfielder was enchanted by the Edinburgh club when signing a two-and-a-half-year contract 11 months ago. Trials at Kilmarnock and St Mirren earlier in his career provided an outline of the footballing environment this side of the water, but Tynecastle Park was an ideal destination.

One can only imagine McEneff’s frustration, then, whilst sitting in the stand for weeks earlier this season. He featured regularly after arriving from Shamrock Rovers as Hearts secured the Championship title and promotion, but Premiership game time proved rather less straightforward since the summer.

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Recent matches have seen him gradually reimpose himself and he is somewhat frustrated that the top-flight’s winter break is starting early due to Covid-related crowd limits. The Boxing Day match against Ross County will be Hearts’ last for three weeks.

“I've been in and out of the team at times and not been in the squad earlier on in the season. Recently I've been in the team a lot more so this has come at the wrong time for me, personally,” he explained.

Postponing the Edinburgh derby to February 1 is the correct decision, though, according to McEneff. From Sunday, Scottish Government crowd limits allow only 500 fans at matches for an initial three-week period – hardly conducive to a raucous inner-city football atmosphere.

“I’d rather play in a full stadium,” said McEneff, who has yet to appear in the Capital fixture. “Delay it until the end of the season and play it in midweek, whatever. It’s just not the same for you guys, anyone watching if it’s not a full house.

“It’s not the same for any management or players involved in the game. I just think, especially with the derby games, because they’re the ones where the atmosphere brings the best out of players on the pitch, it’s not the same. And I think if you asked anyone in the changing room, they’d give you the exact same answer.”

His own tenacity and defiance may propel him into manager Robbie Neilson’s starting line-up by the time Hearts travel to Leith. McEneff says his footballing education has been challenging and involved plenty tests already for someone aged 26. To employ layman’s terms, he has a bit about him.

“I feel I have something to give as well. I certainly didn’t come here to make up the numbers. That’s why it’s frustrating at times,” he said. “Hopefully in the coming weeks and months I can show I can make an impact at the club, that’s what I am here to do.

“I went on trial at Kilmarnock for a week or two when Kenny Shiels was the manager. They offered me a contract but I went to England instead. I went on trial at St Mirren as well when I was released by Tottenham and didn’t sign, I signed for Derry City instead.

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“So I have seen Scottish football throughout those moments of my career. I have always watched the game so I knew a fair bit about it.

“When I found out of the interest from Hearts I knew it was a massive club and it was something that excited me straight away. It wasn’t solely down to that but that was a big pull to come and play here.

“And obviously where the club was going, getting back into the top league, I saw it as a massive opportunity for myself. That’s why I made the decision.

“My remit since I've been young was to keep my head down and work hard, no matter what the situation was like. Football changes – you have good times and bad times and this year there have been bad moments where I've not been involved in the squad or I've sat on the bench and not got a game.

“You do get frustrated, but I've always maintained a level head. There is a good group of lads in the changing room and we all get on well, so I when I've had the chance to come in and help this group, who have been doing well, you have to be ready for it and be ready to play at the level the team is at.

“That's what I've done. I've been involved a bit more recently and hopefully I'll be involved a lot more in the coming weeks and months.”

Edinburgh is now very much his home. “My missus and kid are here and the rest of my family come back and forward to visit, so I'm old enough and ugly enough to get over that side of it. I had the homesick stuff when I was younger but I am really comfortable here. From that point of view, I'm happy.

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“I have learned to deal with the downs, and also the ups, it’s important when things are going well you don’t get above yourself and get too excited, because you’re waiting for someone to bring you crashing down a few weeks or months later.

“I think if you maintain a level of hard work things will always work out in the end. There are things that have happened throughout my career, you get in a bad situation where you’re not doing well.

“If you throw the towel in, the only person who won’t benefit is yourself. If you keep working hard it’s you who will benefit. If I can come in and help the team that’s what I want to do. I have started to do that more recently and hopefully I’ll do that more and more in the future.”

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