Moira Gordon: Hearts’ Andy Irving belies his youth and competes with the grown-ups
The young midfielder dropped out of the team and was not even included in the squad for the first four matches of the German’s tenure.
Given the fact that confidence had been blighted by the appalling start to the campaign, with even the experienced professionals around him showing signs of fear in games as they struggled to find a foothold and keep frustrated fans onside, it could have been a critical blow to Irving.
But against the might of a Rangers midfield, hailed by many as arguably the best in the country this term, this level-headed kid again proved he has what it takes to compete with the grown-ups.
It was a day when all around him played with the same belief and gusto as Hearts defied their league position and took the game to the title challengers, but it wasn’t a one-off for Irving, who has been notable since his return.
Reinstated for the Aberdeen game at the year’s end, he was man of the match that day as he knuckled down to the task of proving to his new gaffer that he was worthy of his place.
After a draw against the Dons, a side that had been struggling is unbeaten in the three games since and, having booked a slot in the next round of the Scottish Cup, also notched up their first league win under Stendel.
Irving has played, and played well, in every one of those games.
Speaking after his debut in January 2018, having helped the team to a 3-0 away win over Hamilton, claiming an assist for the second goal, the teenager, who had been attending games with his dad since he was four and been part of the Gorgie youth set-up since he was eight, made no secret how much it means to him to play for his boyhood heroes. “It’s what a lot of kids dream of. Having my name on the back of the shirt and playing for Hearts means everything to me.” It shows, despite the fact it has been a tough season to prove that.
Still only 19, Irving could have shrunk back into his shell but, like Aaron Hickey and now Euan Henderson and Lewis Moore, he is proving that he is man enough to cope with the hefty demands placed on players at a club like Hearts.
Mentally tough enough to cope with bad results and Stendel sidelining him, he didn’t spit the dummy. Instead, he made an honest appraisal of what he could do better to win over the new boss. He upped the ante in training and bought into the new style of play and, when he got the opportunity, he justified his selection.
A creative player, who can bring others into play with a well-angled pass, he boasts a wonderful left foot and vision beyond his years. He reads the game well and can bring composure to the middle of the park. Even in the toughest times, he will take the ball and take responsibility.
The one thing people queried was Irving’s ability to really dig deep – whether that be tracking back or going full-throttle into a challenge. But he has worked hard on working hard.
That industry is fundamental to Stendel’s pressing game and he played the part on Sunday, just as he has in every game since winning over the German.