Ryan's Ayr deal key to flying high at Hearts

THE "Five Ps" states that Perfect Preparation Prevents Poor Performance, a phrase Ryan McGowan might have coined for himself. His progress from prodigious Adelaide teenager to Hearts first-team mainstay has been carefully orchestrated with no stone left unturned.

He currently finds himself in the penultimate phase of his development – a loan spell to accrue the necessary first-team experience that will facilitate his eventual graduation at Tynecastle. Spending this season with First Division outfit Ayr United is the means to an end, for everything has been planned with one ultimate goal in mind.

McGowan is an intelligent, articulate and confident interviewee with a fair portion of Australian dry wit. Some would say a typical product of the Australian Institute of Sport. However, there is a steely core behind the relaxed facade as he pursues a dream held since childhood. A dream which prompted him to abandon year-round sunshine and fly more than 10,000 miles to rainy Scotland only weeks after his 17th birthday. Now 20, he has yet to impose himself on the Hearts first team but senses an opportunity is near.

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His learning curve at Somerset Park has been steep this year. Just as he intended. The initial six-month loan was renewed at the beginning of January, meaning McGowan stays with Ayr until the summer. Then it's back to Riccarton to stake a first-team claim using the experience gained from a First Division relegation battle. Jose Goncalves intends to leave Hearts on freedom of contract in June and a defensive void will be someone's to fill. McGowan is hell bent on being that someone.

"I was quite happy to stay and push for my place at Hearts this season. The gaffer thought it would be better, at my age, to go on loan," he said, speaking exclusively to the Evening News. "I was away with Australia for the Under-20 World Cup (last September] so that cut me off a little bit. When I came back the opportunity at Ayr was there and I took it.

"The manager just said that, at this time, it would better for me to get first-team experience. I'm pretty sure he knows I'll be back next season and pushing more towards the first team. By then, I'll have eight or nine months experience in the First Division. Some boys might look at it if you get sent on loan and think that's it, the club don't want you or they don't see a future for you. I see it as a great opportunity to be able to hold my own if I come back and get put into the first team. It might take me three or four games to get used to SPL standard, but I think I'll be ahead of boys who haven't had that first-team experience because they've been sitting on the bench.

"Jason Thomson went on loan to Livingston and since he came back to Hearts he's been involved regularly. I hope it works out like that for me. I wanted experience.

"As a centre-back or centre midfielder, they (Hearts] aren't looking for a young boy, they're looking for experience. So the best thing for me was to go out on loan and I was lucky enough to get a First Division club. Some clubs at that level might not have taken a chance on a younger player. It's been everything that I expected.

"Ayr get decent crowds. We played Dundee away, who are averaging about 5000 at home. Because we're down the bottom we have to battle away so it's not pretty football all the time. I'm getting used to that aspect. Hearts are a big club and when we play other SPL teams we tend to boss most games. At Ayr, no disrespect to them, we're struggling in a relegation battle just now. I'm learning how to dig in and grind out results, play ugly football, I guess." There is nothing ugly about McGowan's preferred style of play. He is known back at Riccarton as a footballing centre-back, who is equally comfortable in the holding midfield role. He has an impressive range of passes and has at least sampled SPL football, albeit for just 17 minutes as a substitute for Hearts against Gretna in May 2008. He accepts that, in his position, opportunities for aspiring youngsters are limited.

"You can throw a striker in for the last ten or fifteen minutes of a game, hoping he'll do something. With a centre-back or a defensive midfielder, it's more risky," he continued. "You can't put a centre-back on for the last ten minutes if you're only winning 1-0. I don't have any problem with that."

Brian Reid, the Ayr United manager, saw little risk in taking McGowan to Somerset Park. A former centre-back with Champions League experience, Reid's knowledge has helped the young prodigy grow, even in his short time on the west coast. As has the assistance of a former Tynecastle defender.

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"I travel down to Ayr from Edinburgh with Kevin James and his experience has helped. He's been around Scottish football for about 60 years it seems," laughed McGowan.

"I signed for Ayr on a Wednesday morning in October and we had to play Dundee that night, so I didn't know any of the boys but they made me feel very welcome. That's a big part of why I've done reasonably well there. They didn't leave me by myself or call me foreign boy or anything. They were very welcoming.

"That first game was probably the biggest highlight. Dundee were favourites for the league and we ended up 2-0 down. I scored to make it 2-1 then set up the equaliser with four minutes to go. That was probably a good way to settle in. I think everyone thought 'oh, he's not bad a player' and it helped me be accepted quicker. If I'd gone out and had a stinker they'd have been looking at me going 'who's this boy from Hearts?'

"Ayr have a good hardcore support and they've been good to me. We played Deveronvale away up wherever that is and we had about 150 Ayr fans there singing songs in the pouring rain."

McGowan gives the impression he likes Scottish football's stereotype of hard football played out in even harder conditions. But he wasn't always so enthusiastic.

"When I first came over I had only just turned 17 and for the first couple of weeks I wasn't too sure. It was freezing, raining every single day. Just last week, for instance, they had four days of temperatures over 40 degrees back home. Here we've had weeks of temperatures below zero, but this is all I've wanted to do since I was a young boy.

"For Hearts to give me the opportunity to come here, I wasn't going to say no to such a good club. I don't really get a summer any more because when I go back home at the end of the season it's winter in Australia. And you can't really call Scotland's summer a real summer. Two hours of sunshine a day, for the odd day here and there, isn't quite the same. Christmas is probably the hardest because we're used to having a hot Christmas outdoors. Here, everyone's freezing cold."

For company, he has younger brother Dylan, a fellow Hearts youth academy pupil. "He's only 18 so stays with me and our landlady, Carol Cooper. We're well looked after there, it's perfect. Matthew Park is only five minutes away from us, and Rocky Visconte is ten minutes away. Us Aussie boys look after each other.

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"We were actually going to have an Ashes cricket match when the Ashes was on because there's Driver, Jamie Mole and a few others who were up for it. Our physio, Rob Marshall, is a New Zealander and he was going to play for the English because New Zealand aren't really good at anything. It never really got going but it was good for banter."

The sly digs at Australia's near neighbours are entirely intentional and very much part of McGowan's sense of humour. The serious business is football, however.

"I have a few personal goals. Next season I hope to be really pushing for the first team. I feel Hearts took a chance on me, brought me over, gave me a good house to stay in, paid me good wages, and overall are a really good club. I feel I owe them something and I want to give something back to say thank you for the chance they've given me. I don't want to be one of those boys who stays here four or five years, doesn't really play and then end up shipped back off to Australia. I want to make a good impression while I'm over here.

"When I first arrived (Valdas] Ivanauskas was in charge. A lot of people have gone out the door since then but Eggert Jonsson, Jason Thomson, Lee Wallace and a few other younger players have stepped up and established themselves at first-team level. It's good Hearts' don't keep bringing in more and more players so you feel you're going in the right direction. The people here have always told me that if you work hard and show the right attitude, you'll get your chance. It's just about making sure that, when your chance arrives, you're ready for it."

The attitude is spot-on, the preparations have been precise and deliberate. Ryan McGowan clearly has big plans.