Rising Australia defender Ryan McGowan is close to securing a new two-year deal with Hearts as the club bids to lock in one of its key assets.
McGowan, who made his Socceroos debut as a late substitute in last month’s friendly international against Scotland, rejected a move to Rangers as the transfer window closed and had also been linked with Sheffield Wednesday.
But though Hearts are in financial difficulties – and players have been paid late in recent weeks – coach John McGlynn has done his utmost to keep the 23-year-old utility who scored as the club crushed crosstown rival Hibernian to win last season’s Scottish Cup Final 5-1.
McGowan played the full 90 minutes as Hearts claimed their first win of the new SPL season – a 3-0 thrashing of Dundee United – on Sunday (AEST), with younger brother Dylan, formerly of Gold Cost United, coming on as an 84th minute substitute.
“We’re in discussions but nothing has been finalised yet,” said McGowan’s agent Lou Sticca of the continuing negotiations over a new deal.
McGowan, who was also in Australia’s squad for the 3-0 win Lebanon and shock 2-1 loss to Jordan and is in the final year of his current contract, said: “I’m just waiting to see what happens over the next couple of weeks and hopefully it will be sorted out.
“I am really happy in Scotland and settled at Hearts and staying here is great option for me.”
Able to operate anywhere across the back four, and also in midfield, McGowan offers versatility and vitality for club and country but is taking nothing for granted over his sudden ascension to Holger Osieck’s inner sanctum.
“I certainly wouldn’t say I feel comfortable yet in terms of being selected for Australia but being part of the last two squads was a huge plus for me and if I keep playing well for Hearts hopefully more calls will come,” he said.
While the critics have savaged Australia’s over its loss in Amman – a defeat which leaves it with just two points from three World Cup qualifiers – McGowan sees no cause for immediate alarm.
“I think the game against Jordan was a one-off, a night when everything went wrong. We still have five games left in the group to put things right and I know we can do that," he said.
“All the criticism was expected and when results don’t go your way you have to be big enough and strong enough to take the flak.”
While deployed as an attacking right back in his brief appearance in the 3-1 loss to Scotland in his adopted home city of Edinburgh, McGowan is happy to play anywhere for his country.
“The boss hasn't indicated to me what role he wants to see me play but if I stay involved then I am sure we’ll have that discussion at some point," he said.
"I’m pretty comfortable anywhere across the back four and I’d love to be involved against Iraq (October 17 AEST) in match that we really need to do well in.”
McGowan admits to being “a little surprised” by his initial call up for Australia, saying: “I guess that was the case but it just goes to show that they obviously think I've been doing well. It was a positive for me.
“And being involved in that second camp for the Lebanon and Jordan games shows that I must have done something right along the way.
“The key for me is to keep doing well at Hearts and any international call ups are a big bonus.”
And the difference between club land international football?
“At international level, the game is sharper and faster and mistakes get punished more than you might see playing for your club,” he said.
As for Hearts’ hopes of big SPL season, he said: “We have lost a few players and have a young team full of ambition. It’s going to take a little time but the way we have playing the results will soon turn for us.”
Hearts currently sit fifth on the ladder with nine points from seven games.
Australia has been warned - Humam Tariq and Dhurgham Ismail are the jewels in the crown of Iraq’s generation next and it’s a group that’s highly rated.