Anger management | Hearts winger Jake Mulraney reveals how help from a sport psychologist, allied with learning to bend it like Beckham, has kickstarted Tynecastle career



JAKE MULRANEY, the Hearts winger, admits he required a healthy dose of anger management to reach his full potential as he lauded the impact of sports psychologist John Johnstone on his progress, on and off the pitch.

The 22-year-old endured a challenging start to his Tynecastle career after joining the Edinburgh outfit from Inverness last summer, acknowledging that he struggled to come to terms with the suffocating expectations associated with representing one of Scotland’s biggest clubs.

Mulraney started just three Premiership matches during the first half of the campaign and endured his sliding doors moment during October, a month in which he failed to feature in a single senior squad. He could wilt and sulk, or knuckle down and prove he could handle life in Gorgie.

He steadfastly chose the latter route, putting a particular focus on his mental strength and learning to cope with the demands put on him by the Hearts faithful without allowing his temper to get the best of him.

“I’ve been doing a lot on and off the pitch to give me the best chance possible to get back into the side,” said Mulraney, “A key thing was the mental side of things and this is the strongest I’ve felt mentally in ages.

“It’s was my temper that was a problem. It was really bad, on the pitch rather than off it. I’ve been dealing with that. I know how to cope and deal with certain situations. I’m working with a friend of mine John Johnstone and it’s working well,

“I think the mental side of the game is massive and unfortunately I have only started to realise that now. I’m glad I am working on that as early as I am because I don’t think people really know how important that is.

“There was a moment around October when I was being left out of the team, left out of the squad and I’ve never had that situation before I needed that kick up the backside, to say ‘I need to fix that, sort this’.

“It’s a massive moment in my career and definitely something I needed. It’s only made me better and all this extra work off the pitch has made me better and stronger.”

Reflecting on a period of settling in that he describes as the toughest he has ever endured as a new signing, Mulraney continues: “I didn’t realise how big Hearts were around Edinburgh and I haven’t been used to consistently playing in front of 20,000 every week so it took a while to adjust.

“With the fanbase being so big then they aren’t slow to let you know if things aren’t going well. [Inverness manager] John Robertson spoke to me about the demands and I know what he’s talking about now!”

Mulraney is now beginning to prove he can shoulder that burden. Prior to his resurgence, the last time he had started two successive league matches was August. On Wednesday evening against Livingston, he is likely to be named in Craig Levein’s 11 for a third game in a row.

As well as cutting a serene figure away from the game, Mulraney has also altered his style when he crosses the white line to satisfy Levein.

As a young man coming through the ranks with Queen’s Park Rangers, the waspish winger drew inspiration from the outrageous flair of Ronaldinho and Cristiano Ronaldo, while he even drew comparisons with Aaron Lennon as a teenager.

This term, however, he has learned to go back to basics and is more concerned with bending it like Beckham.

“I asked the manager what he wanted from me and he told me he wants his wide players to get balls into the box, consistently and as well as I can. It’s about simplifying my game,” he added.

“I don’t put pressure on myself to get past the player, I just look to get myself a yard to put in the cross and it’s working.

“I don’t really need coaching to do the extras that are needed. I just need a bag of balls! Shift it, cross; shift it, cross. I think David Beckham just used to whip it in every time, so if you’re good enough at that . . .

“When I was young I used to idolise Ronaldinho, Thierry Henry, Cristiano Ronaldo. Those were the ones I liked to watch. I loved the tricks. That hasn’t drifted out of my game completely but my game is more simplified now.”

Meanwhile, Levein, who confirmed that talks are ongoing with Arnaud Djoum and Steven Naismith with a view to extending the pair’s stay beyond this summer, could name Uche Ikpeazu on the bench against Livi after the towering striker recovered from the foot injury that sidelined him for the past four months.