RYAN EDWARDS, by his own admission, has never been an inconspicuous individual.
As ‘a foreign, tanned guy with a ponytail’, he has grown accustomed to a degree of recognition on the streets of Scotland.
However, the Hearts midfielder insists his Scottish Cup final heroics have opened his eyes to a whole new level of fandom.
Edwards gave the Jambos the lead in the Hampden showpiece last month and, for ten tantalising minutes, it seemed like Hearts were destined to derail Celtic’s treble treble bid and bring the trophy back to Gorgie.
Instead, Odsonne Eduoard struck twice to secure a 2-1 triumph for Neil Lennon’s charges.
Nevertheless, it was a moment Edwards will always treasure and, as he has swiftly learned, is destined to live long in the memories of Hearts supporters.
“I’ve been recognised a few times before,” smiled the 25-year-old. “It happened occasionally in Australia when I played for my home city team, Perth Glory, and then at Partick Thistle I would get one or two fans come up for a chat.
“After all, I was a tanned, foreign boy with a ponytail, living in Glasgow. I didn’t blend in!
“But it has definitely been more common since scoring that goal. The strangest one was probably the Monday after the cup final. I was at the airport for a 6 a.m. flight and a couple came up to me for a photograph. The girl said ‘Ryan, that was the best eight minutes of my life’.
“I was standing there like: ‘You do realise you are standing next to your partner, right?’ It was five in the morning, and I was half asleep, so that was an odd one.
“I’ve watched the goal back so many times already. I love the commentary and the camera angle that shows the fans going crazy. I’ve had comments on social media and I get stopped on the streets by fans saying ‘thanks for giving us that hope that we were about to win the Scottish Cup’.
“It was only during the off-season that I got the chance to sit back and say ‘that was probably quite a big thing’.”
Indeed, it would be fair to say Edwards is closing in on cult hero status among Hearts supporters who appreciate the tireless tenacity of his midfield work, and the substantial character he showed to battle back from the wilderness to start the Jambos’ biggest fixture in seven years.
A signing from Partick Thistle last summer, he was swiftly deemed surplus to requirements and farmed out on loan to St Mirren. Even when he returned to Tynecastle in January, he had to wait until the end of April before making his debut for the club.
Understandably, he retains the look of a man keen to make up for lost time.
“I wanted the season to continue,” he continues. “The cup final was my fifth appearance and after finishing on such a high, personally, I just wanted to keep playing. I’m raring to go and I want to keep making that impression and be in the manager’s thoughts.
“I never go into a game or a training session, saying ‘I’m going to prove the people who doubt me wrong’. That’s their opinion. I know that I’m good enough to play in the Premiership and cup finals and be one of the guys who can make an impact.
“I’ve had to work pretty hard for it, but now I just want to take that momentum into the new season.”
Edwards could find himself with sizeable boots to fill, should fellow box-to-box ace Arnaud Djoum decide his future lies away from Tynecastle.
The Cameroon internationalist, who is currently starring at the African Cup of Nations, is out of contract this summer and is currently weighing up his future, with a standing offer on the table in Edinburgh.
“To replace Arnaud Djoum would be very difficult,” acknowledged Edwards. “He is a massive fans’ favourite and an international footballer. He was a big player for us and it would be great for him to come back, although it looks like he might move on.
“Maybe that will free up a midfield spot or perhaps the manager will look to replace him, because he is one of the first names on the team-sheet. However, that’s a place I want to get to – being one of the first midfielders on the team-sheet.
“I will try to force my way into the manager’s plans and try to be that midfielder he can rely on. Arnaud was playing a lot of different roles in the midfield and I think I can do that as well.”