BY ALAN TEMPLE in Dublin – Capital City Press
Hearts starlet Sam Nicholson admits he has been on a summer mission to bulk up in a bid to survive in the land of the giants.
The 20-year-old acknowledges that an almighty physical challenge awaits the Jambos as they step up from facing part-timers in the Championship to going toe-to-toe with likes of Celtic and Aberdeen on a weekly basis.
He even finds himself dwarfed in training this season, with Hearts’ recruitment policy clearly aimed at competing in the rough-and-tumble top flight. Juanma Delgado cuts a hulking figure at six-foot-three, Blazej Augustyn is just an inch shorter and Juwon Oshaniwa, who is Tynecastle-bound, stands at six-foot-one.
However, the diminutive winger insists he has been punching above his weight for his whole career.
And Nicholson, who made headlines around the world when suffered facial injuries due to a ‘Kung-fu’ challenge from Livingston’s Jason Talbot, insists he is up for the fight after hitting the gym with Hearts fitness guru John Hill in the close season.
The Scotland under-21 internationalist said: “I went away for a week in Portugal and a week in Ibiza, but apart from that I have been in all the time. I did gym work on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
“Our sports scientist Hilly [John Hill] would give us free time after it to do running if we wanted to, but for me I needed the gym work to get a wee bit bigger.
“I’ve struggled to put on weight for a couple of years, it seems to be the body type I have.
“I sort of came to an agreement with Hilly. I suggested that I needed to get bigger and he said straight away: ‘Aye, you definitely do!’
“I have noticed a difference although Blazej [Augustyn] and Juanma are a bit too big for me!
“Teams like Aberdeen and Celtic are full of guys like that but I don’t find it intimidating – I like a challenge.”
The imposing stature of his new teammates notwithstanding, it is their characters which have impressed Nicholson.
Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson has been candid in his desire to sign hard-working, amenable personalities, insisting the chemistry in the dressing room is almost as important as the quality.
Nicholson continued: “The new lads have all settled in really well. They are nice people and I think Robbie [Neilson] and Craig [Levein] are taking that into consideration.
“Everyone gets on well and we had that last season, the most important thing to have in a team is a good dressing room and I think we have that.
“I was sad to see other boys like James Keatings, Brad McKay and Danny Wilson go, but we wished them all the best and it is just part of football.”
Nicholson was a part of the Jambos side which endured relegation 2014 and, amid suggestions they could gatecrash the top six on their return to the top flight, he does believes the current side is better equipped than the one decimated by administration two years ago.
He added: “I think we have a stronger team this year than we had then. The top six is definitely a target. It’ll be a hard season for us but we’re looking forward to it.”