BY ALAN TEMPLE – Capital City Press
Hearts starlet Sean McKirdy insists his baptism of fire in the Highlands has only made him more determined to become a Tynecastle regular.
The 17-year-old made his first league start for the capital club against Inverness Caledonian Thistle last month after a family bereavement forced Morgaro Gomis to miss the fixture.
Despite turning in a tidy display at the heart of midfield alongside Prince Buaben, McKirdy was on the wrong side of a 2-0 defeat against John Hughes’ Caley Jags.
Nevertheless, the Scotland youth internationalist believes he has emerged stronger from the experience and remains determined to make an impact in Robbie Neilson’s first-team this season.
McKirdy told Capital City Press: “It was difficult, especially with the circumstances around Morgaro. I had played a few cup games and had come on as a substitute in the league, but it’s a different story to start a Premiership fixture.
“It was a match with a lot at stake – a top of the table game at that time – and it was a big challenge against a team that won the Scottish Cup and finished third in the league last season.
“But it was a brilliant experience and you just have to soak that up and try to learn from it.
“It whets your appetite to be involved – you want more and more of that. Playing in big matches and testing yourself is what you want to be doing every week. It just makes me more determined to succeed.
“It is a mark of the gaffer that he will put his trust in young players and I want to keep progressing and give him something to think about.”
McKirdy has already played six senior games for Hearts and his meteoric rise to first-team contention is underlined by the fact he is still eligible to represent the Jambos’ under-18 side.
While his senior teammates enjoyed a short break or represented their countries during the recent international hiatus, he was busy captaining Hearts to their first East of Scotland Shield triumph in more than a decade last Saturday.
The 3-1 win over Hibs in the youth showpiece has ensured McKirdy has the bragging rights over the likes of Billy King, Jamie Walker and Sam Nicholson.
He smiled: “A few of the senior boys have been involved in that run of not winning this trophy for 10 years. That’s something to hold against Sam [Nicholson], Billy [King], Jamie [Walker] and those guys!
“Hearts and Hibs games are always competitive – no matter the level – especially when there is a trophy involved. It’s great to get the monkey off our back and finally win it.”
Neilson and Hearts director of football Craig Levein – who later tweeted “well done to the U18 lads. Ran out comfortable winners in the end” – were among the interested observers at Tynecastle to witness McKirdy lifting the trophy.
He added: “That’s the commitment of the whole coaching team. With a free weekend, and given the hours they work, no-one would have grudged them not coming to the game in person.
“But that is a mark of how much the senior coaches care about how the young boys are progressing.”