BY DARREN JOHNSTONE in La Manga – Capital City Press
Hibs striker James Keatings was warned to expect a backlash after crossing the fierce capital divide – but has revealed he has been inundated with messages of goodwill from Hearts fans.
The 23-year-old became Alan Stubbs’ first signing of the summer on June 1 just three days after negotiating his release at the Championship winners.
Despite netting 11 goals in 33 outings for the Tynecastle outfit, the former Celtic trainee was told by head coach Robbie Neilson that he was free to leave half-way through his two-year deal.
Keatings’ release came as a surprise to many Hearts fans and even though he has joined their bitter rivals, the marksman insists the Gorgie faithful have not turned on him.
Keatings, who is getting to know his new Hibs team-mates on the club’s pre-season trip to La Manga, said: “On the day I was signing I was warned by people at Hibs about what could have come my way, and about what had happened to other players.
“But it was actually surprising to read the nice comments that came from the Hearts fans.
“The fans were surprised that Hearts had let me go and they said they held no grudges against me.
“I really appreciated what some of them had to say and I did not expect it. I thought a massive majority would turn on me after I signed.
“I was massively surprised by comments and I can only thank them for that.”
Although desperate to make an impact at Hibs, Keatings, who was part of the Hamilton squad that relegated the Leith outfit last May, admits he was disappointed with how his time in Gorgie ended.
Keatings – the scorer of six goals in eight games over the festive period – added: “It was really hard. I had meeting with Robbie before the end of the season.
“I was doing my thing in training and I wasn’t getting the rewards I think I deserved.
“I thought I did really well in the team and Robbie’s words were that I carried the team for part of the season, and I thought I was pushed to the side.
“But that’s football, the manager had his strongest side and I wasn’t in it. I kept on working hard in training but that was it.”
Keatings was part of a Hearts side that was given a run for their money in the Edinburgh derby last season when both teams shared a win apiece, and two draws.
And the forward admits he was impressed by the way Hibs applied themselves in those matches.
He added: “Playing against them last season, you saw how well the team worked, they played football the right way and that was a massive factor in me signing – the number of chances they got in games and how they dominated games.
“Even in the derbies, Hibs played their football and Hearts got a bit lucky in games, we got top class goals at vital moments and rode our luck.
“Hearts won by a lot of points but in the derbies there wasn’t a lot between the teams.
“The start of the season was the key, Hearts started brilliantly on the front foot, winning games week in week out.
“Hibs kind of struggled a wee bit, there was a gelling period for them with new players.”