HEARTS youth coach Declan Fergus was on top of the world after scaling Mount Kilimanjaro during a recent expedition to Africa.
But he was brought crashing down to earth this week after being placed on unpaid leave by the cash-strapped Jambos.
Fergus, who works primarily with the under-13 age group, was one of several coaches told they would be out of a job for the foreseeable future amid a swathe of cost-cutting measures at Tynecastle, with academy chief Roger Arnott breaking the news to shellshocked staff on Wednesday.
All full-time employees, including boss Daniel Stendel and the entire playing squad, have also been told to take 50 per cent pay cuts or request mutual termination of their contracts.
Fergus is praying the short-term results in long-term gain for Hearts and he is determined to return to the club – but concedes it has been a horrible week.
He said: “Wednesday was a disappointing, difficult day for us.
“The academy staff were all told we would be placed on unpaid leave and you could see how difficult that was for Roger [Arnott] to tell us all. He was upset by it.
“Tough calls are being made across the board, with first-team players, coaches and some really hard working people behind the scenes taking 50 per cent cuts.
“I understand Hearts’ decision and they have made a hard call from a business point of view.
“I’ll go back to working for Hearts when things are cleared up, hopefully sooner rather than later.
“Hopefully, making these decision now means the club can still be in a decent position for us all to get back to work, getting kids playing the game they love and fulfilling fixtures in the academy again.”
While Fergus has the same pressing financial concerns as any other individual who could be impacted during this period, his first thought is for the kids who will be without football.
And, even if he will not receive a penny from the Jambos for it, he wants to help ensure youngsters can still hone their skills.
He continued: “It’s looking like it could be well into the summer before we can get back to training. That is disappointing enough for me – I get excited about football, it’s my life – but that’s doubly the case for the youngsters.
“They’ll be climbing the walls with no school and no structured football!
“In terms of what we can do for players and parents, we are looking at developing some mini-tasks and homework they could do. If they can do things in the living room or back garden, we’ll look at that. Even some video analysis could be an option.
“I also run a coaching academy [Declan Fergus Coaching Academy] where I offer private and additional training and I’ll also be looking at whether there is scope to do some one-to-one sessions, while following all the guidelines and precautions.
“It’s important to try to keep kids active and engaged.”
Fergus allows himself a rueful smile when he considers how much the world has changed in the last month.
It was only in February that he was enjoying a once in a lifetime trip to South Africa and Tanzania, carrying out training sessions for local youngsters, setting up partnerships with charities and dishing out Hearts kits to underfunded teams.
He added: “I was still over in Africa at the start of February and there were no worries. Every day was a new experience and adventure, so exciting and positive. Now, a month later; this.
“I was away for four weeks, in South Africa first then to Tanzania. We created partnerships with local charities and schools, handed out some Scotland and Hearts strips to the kids and did a month’s worth of free training sessions – just to give something back.
“It was the best trip I have ever been on. The kids don’t have much – especially in Tanzania – but they are filled with happiness, joy and smiles when a ball comes out and there is a purity to not everyone having a mobile phone or designer gear.
“If there is one minor thing that comes from all this, maybe when we get back to normality the kids over here will have that same excitement to see a football pitch again!”
The African adventure also afforded Fergus the opportunity to climb Kilimanjaro, the highest peak on the continent and the world’s tallest free standing mountain, capping a remarkable journey.
Fergus added: “Luckily one of the guys I was running coaching for also had a trekking company and said ‘I’ll sort a discount price for you!’ I managed to get a private tour and it was four days to the summit.
“It was incredible to live on Kilimanjaro for a few days, working your way up and testing your limits. It was one of the best things I’ve ever done.
“It’s a strange feeling because would take all that time to get to the top – and then only spend 15 minutes up there because it so cold and so dangerous.
“But I wish you could bottle that feeling of adrenaline and achievement when you get to the summit.