AARON McENEFF finally feels at home off the pitch.
Now he wants to make his presence felt on it.
The Hearts midfielder endured a surreal introduction to life in Edinburgh following his January arrival from Shamrock Rovers, initially living in a near-deserted hotel amid the Covid-19 lockdown.
He was briefly joined in the Courtyard by Marriott hotel at Riccarton by the Scotland national rugby team — preparing for their Six Nations’ exploits — and fellow Jambo captures Armand Gnanduillet and Gervane Kastaneer.
Days were whittled away with long walks, cooking and gaming, but it was far from the ideal introduction to Scotland’s capital, even if McEneff is loath to complain given the struggles others are facing.
McEneff now has his own flat in the city and, with the relaxation of restrictions hopefully on the horizon, he is looking forward to a bright future — professionally and personally.
“I’m a lot more settled now,” confessed McEneff. “I’ve got my own place after being in the hotel for three weeks. My missus is over with me now, too, so it should be a lot better from now on.
“The Scottish Rugby boys were in there but, other than them, I only ever saw two of the other lads who signed — and they arrived before me so they got out of the hotel quite quickly!
“As you can imagine, going back from training to a hotel room every day wasn’t ideal.
“I went plenty of walks, cooking, TV, Playstation, simple stuff like that. Your daily life changes and you can’t even go down for a coffee.
“But that’s the situation and we are in a good position compared to a lot of people — I won’t be crying about not going for a coffee or a meal.”
Nor is McEneff crying about his own form, even if he is adamant there is a lot more to come.
The former Tottenham Hotspur youngster has been a rare bright spot for the Jambos during a rather turgid run of three successive 1-1 draws, bringing energy to the midfield and showing a willingness to burst into the box.
His showings are all the more impressive given he would ordinarily be in pre-season, such is the summer football calendar in the League of Ireland.
“I’ve got two starts now and I feel like my overall match fitness is improving week-on-week and I feel a lot stronger,” continued McEneff. “I would have been doing pre-season back home, so getting minutes into the legs has been good for me.
“You need to find the balance without pushing too hard, breaking down and getting injured. I think I’ve found that balance.
“I’ve made a positive enough impact coming off the bench, then against Morton in my first start at home I felt like I had a good 60 minutes, getting on the ball — and I should have scored.
“I maybe died out a little in that game, just due to a lack of match fitness but then against Inverness I felt a lot stronger and wasn’t tired at all for the whole 90. I was back to my old self.
“Now, I’d like to get my name on the scoresheet and create a few goals for the team.”
That would be just the ticket for Hearts, too, given the visible lack of inspiration in their recent outings.
It would still take a minor miracle for the capital club to throw away the Championship title — yet McEneff is swiftly becoming accustomed to the demands of the Jambos fanbase.
Owner Ann Budge was even asked about the future of boss Robbie Neilson during a press call this week, with just the 12-point cushion at the summit ahead of the visit of Dundee.
“The boys have done well all season, picking up a lot of wins, so when you miss chances and draw games fans will get frustrated,” adds McEneff. “That is what you get at a big club.
“But we, as players, get frustrated as well. We all want to be winning football matches.
“We’ve got a chance to put that right on Saturday after a good week’s training and we’ll be prepared.”