BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
HEARTS legend Jim Jefferies reckons it is ‘nonsense’ to describe gruelling sessions on the dreaded dunes of Gullane as outdated – insisting those infamous shifting sands will provide a solid foundation for success.
Craig Levein, who has conceded that the capital club were not fit enough last term, rolled back the years on Wednesday by condemning his players to a hellish day at the beach.
It is a taxing tradition for Hearts dating back to John Harvey’s reign in the 1960s. With soon-to-be Rangers manager Jock Wallace on his coaching staff, they would force their charges, including Jefferies, to run with teammates on their backs. It was later revived by Sandy Clark and Alex MacDonald.
Having witnessed the benefits first-hand, Jefferies made it a mainstay of his conditioning work, even as the game embraced technology, science and foreign talents such as Stephane Adam, Gilles Rousset and Pasquale Bruno joined the club.
It didn’t do any harm as Hearts ended a 56-year wait for a trophy with the 1998 Scottish Cup.
“The manager has made comments previously that he didn’t think they were fit enough last season – and he knows this is a way to rectify that,” said Jefferies. “He has done it as a player under Doddie [Alex MacDonald] and Sandy [Clark] and knows the benefit.
“Some people are quick to frown upon it as a method of getting people fit, but it has a track record of working. It is a tough session and will help them greatly. Those dunes are there, they are as good as any equipment you could buy for that sort of work, so why not use them?
“People love to throw about the term ‘Old School’ but that’s just nonsense. Craig will still be using all the technologies and getting the data he needs, but is getting a wee change of scene while building up the muscles and testing the players’ mettle.
“All the managers who have replicated it wouldn’t have if it wasn’t effective.”
Jefferies smiled: “As a manager, you would get a few moans and I was called some terrible names – but that’s what you want!”
In the words of Hearts midfielder Ryan Edwards – one of ten new signings made by Hearts this summer – the ordeal was ‘brutal’ and part of the toughest pre-season he has endured.
And Jefferies firmly believes the camaraderie built during the trip to the coast will prove to be almost as important as the fitness work.
“It’s absolutely brilliant for the spirit,” Jefferies continued. “Every player knows what the other is going through, they try to gee them up and get them through it. Some will be naturally fitter than others, but they’ll all drive each other on. Fight for each other.
“It’s building that camaraderie that you will need through the season. All the lads are away and going through the mill together. That creates something which is hard to do artificially at a training ground.”
As they nurse aching limbs, gratitude is unlikely to be foremost in the thoughts of the Hearts players. Nevertheless, Jefferies is adamant they should thank their lucky stars that Levein is a more lenient taskmaster than previous bosses.
“It was a lot tougher under Jock because there was 12 weeks of a break,” he added. “Some boys used to go and get day jobs during the close season! So getting fitness was a massive challenge after three months off.
“Some of the things we used to do would be hard enough on your own, but we would get made to carry medicine balls – and not the lighter ones you get in gyms now – or even some of the other players on your back.
“I’ve seen players be physically sick. They would do a couple of circuits behind the dunes and every time they came back round they would be a completely different colour. Red, white . . . yellow.
“But you always felt great after it. Some enjoyed it more than others – and some boys would need carried to the sea by their teammates, but they felt the benefit and I’m sure the current Hearts players will too.”