The Tynecastle club’s turnover of players has been admittedly high in recent years. However, it’s not possible to recollect any Rooneys. And then it dawns. Rooney is being playful and more than a little self-critical. He was not playing for Hearts at the time, rather he was up against them.
He was at Inverness Caledonian Thistle – one of as many as six clubs on both sides of the Border Rooney, still only 24, has on his CV. The full-back started off his career at Queen’s Park – where have we heard that before? – and returned to Hampden for a best-forgotten Scottish Cup semi-final against Craig Levein’s Hearts last year.
Levein was under severe pressure at the time after a continued run of poor league form. Many had predicted a cup shock against the Championship side, though it did not transpire. Far from it. Hearts ran out fairly comfortable victors. Rooney, who was booked, was given a torrid time by Hearts winger Jake Mulraney.
It clearly still rankles, which is why he is relishing a return to the stadium at the last four stage of the Betfred Cup after Tuesday night’s penalty shootout victory over Dunfermline, another of his former clubs.
Rooney scored in the 1-1 draw but was excused penalty-taking duties as successful strikes from Craig Conway, Stevie May, Callum Booth and Liam Craig saw the visitors progress, with Callum Hendry the only Saints player failing to convert. Keeper Zander Clark was the difference, saving two Dunfermline efforts from Paul Watson and Kevin O’Hara.
St Johnstone now have a semi-final to look forward to next year.
“I went to Hampden with Inverness for a (Scottish Cup) semi-final and that was an unbelievable experience,” recalled Rooney. “I’m sure it will be again – just hopefully with a different result this time. During stages of that game against Hearts we were always in it, but the game got away from us when the second goal went in.
“It was hard to take. I thought I was Hearts’ best player that day! I’m always pretty honest about how I’ve played.”
He’s honest about something else. Quite a few Dunfermline fans don’t like him. Rooney suggested he was an acquired taste when he turned out for the Pars in 2015/16 season, before he headed to England for a season at York City under Jackie McNamara. The little matter of scoring on his last three visits probably hasn’t helped either (he scored once in 14 appearances while at the club).
“Some of the fans at Dunfermline quite liked me but there were others who absolutely hated me!” he admitted. “You always want to do well against a former club and show them that you’ve improved.”
It wasn’t just any goal either. The way Rooney brought down Scott Tanser’s pass and then slotted the ball into the far corner of Owain Fon Williams’ goal suggested he’d taken lessons from his namesake Wayne. Rooney did reveal that he played as a striker at school.
“I’d like to say it comes naturally!” he said. “I am more used to scoring goals with my head rather than ones like that. Touch and finish – a striker’s instincts!”