Hearts winger Jake Mulraney vows to live up to No.11 jersey following Craig Levein vote of confidence

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“RYAN GIGGS, Arjen Robben . . . oh, Damien Duff. I can’t believe I nearly forgot about Damo!”

Hearts winger Jake Mulraney is listing a swathe of exhilarating wide-men who inspired him as a youngster while wearing ’11’ on their backs.

Emblazoned on the front of his training jersey, that is the very number Mulraney has been handed ahead of the coming campaign; a clear show of faith from boss Craig Levein following a superb end to last season.

The waspish Irishman was arguably Hearts’ star performer in their narrow Scottish Cup final defeat to Celtic and, in the weeks preceding that Hampden showpiece, was finally starting to display his undoubted talent on a consistent basis.

Quick, tricky and direct, the only thing that ever seemed to be missing from Mulraney’s game was the confidence to express himself.

That self-doubt has evaporated in recent months and, in keeping with the new-found swagger that has characterised his progress, he will view his new squad number as an honour rather than a burden.

“A lot of people have been mentioning it [new number],” he smiled. “It’s obviously a good thing if that gaffer gives that to you and shows that faith in you.

“It took me a while to settle in. I’ve played in this league before, so I knew what I was coming in terms of standard, but I matured a bit last year in the run of games I had.

“I was doing positive things I’d never have thought of doing a few months before. People have mentioned it to me and that opens your eyes to it. You realise you are actually doing these things and they are coming naturally.”

And Mulraney reckons Irish eyes will be smiling when his friends and family are finally afforded the chance to witness his development in person.

The affable Dubliner was just 12 years of age when he started to embark on trials across the water, having already caught the eye as a precocious kid with local boys’ club Crumlin United.

Mulraney did enough to land a move to Nottingham Forest at 15 and, while that afforded him a first-class education in the game, it did mean his nearest and dearest have had to watch his progress – including spells at QPR, Stevenage and Inverness – from afar.

So Monday night’s showdown with Shelbourne at Tolka Park is set to take on a level of poignancy well beyond the standard pre-season kick-about for Mulraney.

“I’ve had a few people text me already. My pals keep an eye on what I’m doing and there could be quite a few friends and family coming to watch,” he continued.

“There are quite a few of my family that wanted to come and watch me play and haven’t yet, so it is really nice for them to be able to come and see us.

“I came over to the mainland really young. I started going for trials at 12 and made my mind up at 13, then left at 15. My family watch my games on telly but it’s not like being there in person, you know?”

Following the clash with Shels, Hearts will embark on a gruelling five-day training camp in the Irish capital before travelling to Belfast on Saturday to conclude the trip with a friendly against Glenavon.

And he reckons it will prove invaluable, particularly for new arrivals Craig Halkett, Conor Washington and Jamie Walker.

“This will be brilliant for the new boys because we will be with each other 24/7, in the hotel for a week straight,” added Mulraney. “It’s good for everyone to get to know each other. I’ve experienced it myself, joining new teams and staying over. It can be hard but the group here make the new boys feel welcome.”

 
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