Jon Daly insists his management career is very much a marathon rather than a sprint. After five games in interim charge of Hearts, the 35-year-old Dubliner remains eager to become his own man one day. For now, he is content to be a member of Craig Levein’s Riccarton backroom team.
Levein’s first act after resuming the Hearts manager’s chair last August was to promote Daly from youth coach to first-team coach after watching his four-game stewardship of the side. One previous match in charge in December 2016 means Daly has been in the hotseat five times, although he is in no immediate rush to increase that number.
Long-term, he definitely fancies a crack at being a manager. He likes devising training programmes, picking teams, dealing with the media and would like to sign his own players to shape his side. All of it will doubtless come in good time.
Daly is enjoying his new role, learning under an experienced manager and preparing for the day he steps from the back of the technical area to the front. That may well be at Tynecastle in the future, as he is highly regarded by Levein and the club hierarchy.
“You’d need to speak to the powers that be as it’s not my decision. I enjoyed the games I had last year and this year,” he said. “It’s given me the taste for management, whether it’s in two, three or four years’ time. I see it as a long career so there’s no rush to jump into the hotseat.
“If you jump in too early, you can be out again for a long time. I’m happy learning and taking things on board. Hopefully I’ll get the opportunity somewhere down the line.
“I’m delighted with my own situation. I work closely with the manager, Liam Fox and Austin MacPhee. It’s an opportunity for me to continue working with first-team players. When I retired from playing, that’s what I wanted to do – work at first-team level. This gives me that platform to get that experience. This is a fantastic club to do that.”
Perhaps Daly’s caution stems from watching Ian Cathro’s travails at close quarters. The Irishman’s two caretaker spells bookended the Dundonian’s eight months in charge of Hearts. Cathro, pictured below, accepted the head coach’s job aged 30 but now finds himself unemployed.
Daly hasn’t yet thought about branching out. “If something had popped up, it’s a hypothetical question. You don’t know. I’m in no rush. I’m 35 and it’s a long career in football. There are managers in their 70s.
“Management is a longer career than playing so I’m in no rush to jump into just any job. I’m at a very good club that looks to develop young coaches. I’m in no rush to look anywhere else.”
Most responsibilities involved in management already come naturally to him, as he demonstrated whilst deputising as head coach. Even sleepless nights were welcomed. “I enjoy dealing with the players, the press, everything. If you don’t enjoy it, you won’t thrive on it,” he explained. “I really enjoyed the whole experience although it was only four weeks. It was four weeks when you don’t switch off and you don’t really sleep.
“You think about all the permutations that could happen for a Saturday. That’s what I want to do so that’s what I’ll have to deal with as I go on. There wasn’t a lot of pressure on me. We weren’t in a great place back then but it was enjoyable.”
After overseeing a win, a draw and two defeats, Daly made way for Levein’s managerial return at the end of August. “I’ve known him a long time,” Daly added. “He took me to Dundee United as a player and I had a lot of respect for him as my manager up there. That’s continued here.
“Me, Andy Kirk, Liam Fox and all the boys below are in a good place where we can learn and see how a very good manager works. You can pick things up from him and see where it takes us.”
If you want to pick up passion and fire in the belly, Daly believes Levein is the ideal example. “We have seen it. It’s going to take him time but you see he has a passion for football.
“Go to Oriam on a Saturday or Sunday morning and he’s there watching under-11s and under-12s to see the kids coming through. He has the club’s best interests at heart and you see how much it means to him.
“On the sidelines, he’s starting to get a bit more animated – back to the scary Craig Levein we all know and love,” smiled Daly. “It’s easy to see he does care. It rubs off on everyone and makes the players ensure they do their jobs.”