Gary Locke welcomes break for Hearts’ U21 stars

Gary Locke: Fears burn-out. Picture: Jane Barlow
Gary Locke: Fears burn-out. Picture: Jane Barlow
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Hearts manager Gary Locke has welcomed Billy Stark’s decision to go easy on some of his hard-pressed Tynecastle youngsters – even though he would love for them to keep winning international caps.

Defender Jordan McGhee, midfielder Jason Holt and striker Callum Paterson have been called up by Scotland for the European Under-21 Championship qualifier against Slovakia on Thursday and next Monday’s against Georgia.

However, Under-21 boss Stark, insisting part of his job is to protect “player development”, has left out a handful of others from the troubled Gorgie club following their involvement in his squad for recent games.

Goalkeeper Jack Hamilton, defenders Brad McKay and Kevin McHattie, and wingers David Smith and Jamie Walker have been omitted for the double-header after being fast-tracked into their club’s battle for survival this season following the descent into administration.

Locke has confessed to fearing burn-out for his youngsters, many of whom are facing the stresses and strains of regular first-team football for the first time in their fledgling careers, after the club’s signing ban left them in a relegation battle.

At the weekend, Walker admitted that some of Hearts’ youngsters may have buckled under the pressure of their bottom-of-the-table clash with St Mirren, with the 2-0 defeat leaving them now ten points adrift of Kilmarnock at the foot of the Premiership. Locke has stressed the importance of as many players as possible being able to the recharge their batteries this week as club football takes a back seat in favour of the international scene.

He said: “It’s important that the boys who are away with Scotland play and, with the ones who aren’t going to play, I haven’t got a lot of numbers here.

“Billy’s on the phone to me constantly. It’s great that our players are getting international recognition and we’re delighted that three have been picked. We had a conversation that I would rather remained between myself and Billy, but we’re delighted that three have been picked. And the others will get a little rest, which is really pleasing.”

Even though he is always thrilled to see Hearts’ hard work on the training field recognised with international call-ups, Locke has admitted he would love all his players to get a breather this week. He added: “When you get these periods coming up, it’s important we try to get them a little bit of a rest. We’re relying on the same players week-in and week-out. Some of them are away with Scotland, which is great for them personally. In an ideal world, I’d like them to get a little breather.”