John still hale and hearty

WHEN the Hearts coaching staff dined in a secluded Italian restaurant a week past Tuesday, it was the first time they had managed to convene together away from Riccarton since Graham Rix's arrival last November.

Little did they know it would also be their last hurrah. Rix and Jim Duffy were dismissed the very next morning by chairman Roman Romanov, who issued the P45s on behalf of his majority-shareholding father.

Left to gather the remains of the Rix-Duffy era were Valdas Ivanauskas and John McGlynn. To the Lithuanian, the pressure of attempting to guide Hearts to the Scottish Cup and into the Champions League is more graciously-accepted than skull-crushing.

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For McGlynn, it is simply another episode in the tale of the great survivor, a man who in every essence is Mr Hearts. On Sunday at Hampden, McGlynn will stride out behind Ivanauskas and take his place in the Hearts dugout, notepad in hand and heart pumping with pride.

"You learn a lot about yourself when you're put in a situation like this," he says. "I'm looking forward to it because I accept these challenges and want to confront them head-on. There's no point in shying away.

"This will undoubtedly be the biggest game, not just for myself but for a lot of the players as well. But I think I've taken a lot in my stride on my way up the ladder."

McGlynn's ladder must stretch higher than that of a multi-storey window cleaner. On his ascent, the former pupil of St David's High School in Dalkeith has been afforded a grounding that has set him apart as a thoroughly honest and conscientious bloke.

Whilst playing for Musselburgh Windsor as a 19-year-old, McGlynn was invited for a trial with Bolton Wanderers at the old Burnden Park and went on to spend 18 months in Lancashire before returning north to play with Berwick Rangers.

His next move took him to Musselburgh Juniors, where he first encountered the man who would later enrol him at Tynecastle, Billy Brown.

"I left Musselburgh and had a few seasons with Whitehill Welfare. But by then I had started coaching youth teams and I took Lothian United from the under-13s to under-18s age-group."

His first managerial position was as co-manager of Easthouses Lily, and shortly after he accepted the offer of the same role back at Musselburgh. By that time, the professional environment was beckoning for McGlynn.

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"I first got involved with Hearts coaching the under-16s on part-time basis. Just Tuesdays and Thursdays and then the game on a Sunday. Billy and Jim Jefferies were in command at the time. They had just come to Hearts and the youth initiative league had just begun, which has since been expanded over many age levels."

Much like McGlynn's involvement at Tynecastle. He became a permanent Hearts employee in 1998, overseeing the development of the club's under-16 and under-18 sides and progressed to his current status as reserve team coach and assistant with the first team. The rest might be history, but it will always be fondly-remembered history for McGlynn.

Nowadays, go to any Hearts game that involves players over the age of 16 and you will see John McGlynn there, most of the time in the technical area. First team and reserves aside, he assists Stevie Frail with the under-19s and is also a regular at matches involving the club's under-17 side. Apparently, wife Wilma has grown accustomed to her husband being fully immersed in anything with the slightest hint of a maroon tint to it.

"I have a very understanding wife who is used to it by now," says McGlynn. "She has supported me over the years in everything I wanted to do. I have a lot to thank her for. I also have my daughter, Mandy, who is 19 now. It's fair to say I've not been the best father because I've very seldom been there for her. I'm not proud of that but I have put a lot of time into football. It's the old story about keeping my picture on the mantlepiece to let people know I'm still kicking about. Football has been a big part of me.

"It's also important that you're watching the players who are coming through. There's nothing more deflating for young players than the management not going along to see them play, because they then think, 'how can we impress?' It's important from the players' point of view psychologically but it's also vital to know as much as you can about the players who might be coming to the club on a full-time basis the following season."

With yesterday's reserve match with Falkirk negotiated, priorities dictate that McGlynn and Ivanauskas focus solely on the first team ahead of the all-Edinburgh Scottish Cup final. The interim coaching partnership are fully aware of the instability surrounding Hearts, the club's managerial chair struggling even to get warm this season before being robbed of its incumbent.

Naturally, McGlynn feels the uncertainty. It has kept him awake at nights. But it shouldn't, for here is a man who arguably belongs more to Tynecastle than anyone, such is the dedication and unrelenting service he offers.

"I'm realistic and I know how things work in football," says McGlynn. "Every time there's a change I'm concerned about the instability of the situation. When new people come in, they often bring their own people with them and you can find yourself surplus to requirements. That is always the worry when we are in a situation like this. We've had it a number of times but it doesn't get any easier.

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"When you are asked to go and do a job and pick up the pieces, you get on with it but I've never looked upon it as anything else. I'll do what I'm asked to and if I'm asked to assist a new manager when he comes in then I'll be happy to do that too."

McGlynn wouldn't dare cross the line and attempt to influence the thoughts of a new superior. Except perhaps on one critical issue.

When the Hearts squad arrive at their pre-match hotel to prepare in private for Sunday's mammoth meeting with Hibs, the first thing McGlynn will do when he steps off the coach is head for the kitchen to hunt down the head chef, for his infatuation with sticky toffee pudding is fast becoming an obsession all around Riccarton.

"I have to admit to that I'm afraid," he says with his trademark husky chuckle. "We do stay away a lot with this club and I'm very fortunate to have stayed in some nice hotels. It's become a regular thing for me to have the sticky toffee pudding and a few others have jumped on the bandwagon.

"There are some of the other coaches who are now licking their lips on the way to hotels before away games. Graham Rix loved it, Tom Ritchie, Olly the physio, big Jim Stewart and Gordon the kit man. They're all into their sticky toffee pudding now.

"Valdas is more a cheesecake man, and he has his own words for certain other kinds of desserts that he likes. I won't attempt to pronounce them. But I try to make sure I run my sticky toffee puddings off during the week."

As for the semi-final itself, years of hard labour at the coal face of both amateur and professional football have given McGlynn a sound idea of what he can expect as assistant coach at Hampden.

"In the early part of the game we'll be trying to make sure we impose ourselves properly whilst also picking up on anything that might need adjusted. The opening spell will be vital and then after that it's taking it as it comes and trying to react as you see things developing."

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With that, McGlynn leaves the company of this writer to dash off down a corridor at Riccarton. Perhaps some boots require cleaning or kit needs folding. If it's for the benefit of Hearts, you can rely on John McGlynn to be there.

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