CONOR WASHINGTON intends to earn bragging rights over his Northern Ireland teammate Kyle Lafferty by becoming the first Hearts striker to register 20 goals in a single season since 1992.
Lafferty fell agonisingly short of that landmark with the capital club, finding the net 19 times in 45 appearances during the 2017/18 campaign before joining Rangers in a £450,000 deal last summer.
Remarkably, legendary marksman John Robertson is the last man to reach the milestone – a full 27 years ago.
However, Washington insists he is ready to shoulder the burden of Hearts’ number nine jersey and has complete faith in his ability to light up the Scottish Premiership after leaving Sheffield United last month.
“Austin MacPhee [Hearts assistant head coach] mentions 20 goals a lot,” smiled the 27-year-old. “He has mentioned it so many times!
“I want to come here and set realistic targets, and I believe that’s a realistic target.
“I know Kyle [Lafferty] got really close to that and I actually spoke with Kyle before the move. He told me it’s a great club to play for, with really passionate fans.
“There’s no limit on how many I can score given in the way the manager wants to play. It’s so refreshing to speak to him and Austin and to hear them say I’m good enough to come here and score goals.”
Washington’s dissatisfaction with the last few years of his career is palpable.
He was a bit-part player during Sheffield United’s promotion-winning Championship side last term and, prior to that, endured a hit-and-miss two-and-a-half years at QPR; a ‘strange club’, by his own assessment.
“We joked that last season has given me an extra year in my career,” he continued, somewhat ruefully. “I want to make up for lost time.
“I haven’t given a great account of myself over the last couple of years and I’m glad to be given this opportunity by the manager and Austin to change that.
“I was third or fourth choice at Sheffield United and, even if they had offered me something, I probably wouldn’t have taken it because it was a really tough year personally.
“It was great to be part of the team but I only played 600 minutes of football. It’s not enough.
“Before that, it was a strange one at QPR – it’s a strange club, in general. No-one has gone in and done well after me and scored 20 goals, either.”
In truth, it was probably Washington’s travails which made him an attainable option for Hearts. He was a £2.5 million signing for QPR as recently as 2016 following two goal-laden campaigns with Peterborough and Newport County.
But as a free agent with a close relationship with Northern Ireland coach, and Craig Levein’s number two, Austin MacPhee, he emerged as the club’s top target.
“Austin has been speaking to me at international get-togethers for a while,” smiled Washington. “I’ve also spoken with Michael Smith and Aaron Hughes who have told me it’s a really good club and great to be a part of.
“Austin could see the hunger is still there, and the fire was in the belly was back over the last two international games against Estonia and Belarus.”
As he embarks on the latest challenge of a circuitous football career, Washington admits he finds it surreal to consider the fact he was still a postman in Cambridge just seven years ago.
“It’s a good background to come from because I appreciate every day’s training and I still have the passion to go out and play,” added Washington, whose mother hails from Dunfermline.
“My round was between Cambridge and Peterborough, where I was playing at the time.
“It was interesting. I would get up early on a Saturday and then do my round and then head off and play non-league. It was crazy, looking back. It sounds surreal but it has kept me grounded and given me a hunger.”