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10 of 010 ----- L SPL A

MacDonald wants to stake claim when he rejoins Hearts

WHEN Hearts sent him back on loan to Queen of the South in the summer, Jamie MacDonald may have felt himself condemned to a season on the fringes of Scottish football. Instead, while the Tynecastle club have had a miserable time in all competitions, Queens have reached the Scottish Cup final, in which they meet Rangers on Saturday.
That match will be the last the 22-year-old goalkeeper plays for his present side before he returns to Hearts, and he hopes to go out on a high. He has been 18 months in all at Palmerston Park, having spent the first half of 2007 there as well, and believes the experience has equipped him to put up a good fight for a starting place with the Edinburgh team next season.

"I've still got a year at Hearts, so I'll be back there as far as I know. The last 18 months have been great for me – I've played about 55 games for Queens now and my game has come on a lot. It's a big difference playing in front of a crowd, with maybe one team fighting relegation, or players playing for a win bonus, compared to a reserve game.

"I'm going to see what happens pre-season. Hopefully next year I will get a chance.

"Getting to the cup final has put me in the spotlight a little bit, and hopefully Hearts take notice of that. I'm just going back there next year and let's see what happens pre-season. I don't want to go back there and be third or fourth choice."

With Steve Banks approaching the end of his playing days and already doubling up as Hearts' goalkeeping coach, and Eduardas Kurskis having been released, there is a place there to be fought for. First, though, there is Saturday, when MacDonald hopes to benefit from some advice from a former colleague, Craig Gordon.

"I've not spoken to Craig yet this week, but I'm sure I'll get a phone call the night before and probably get a few words of wisdom from him like he did last time. It's good to hear from him, because he did it two years ago with Hearts, so he has got first-hand experience of playing in a cup final.

"It means a lot. He says just go out and enjoy the game – don't let the occasion get to you. That's what I've got to do.

"For me, a clean sheet has to be the priority. Goalkeepers pride themselves on clean sheets, and I think a 1-0 for us would go down better than a 4-3. But, at the end of the day, I suppose, just to get a win would be magnificent."

The 4-3 was a reference to the semi-final, in which Queens beat Aberdeen by the odd goal in seven. Losing three in a game is not something any keeper is proud of, but MacDonald admitted it was not the only time it had happened to him during his stay at Palmerston Park.

"On my debut for Queens we were playing Partick Thistle. We were 4-0 up with five minutes to go, then they pulled it back to 4-3. That was a bit hairy."

At a shade over 6ft, MacDonald is not the tallest of goalkeepers, but believes he has other strengths which make up for that lack of height.

"Through the years at Hearts I've always had coaches saying: 'You're going to find it hard – you're maybe not as big as what you want.'

"And, yes, in a way it has been good to prove people wrong, and prove to myself that you don't need to be 6ft 4in or 6ft 5in and massively built.

"I rely a lot on my speed and agility. You just try to play to your strengths. In a way it's good to put two fingers up to people who've put you down."

Growing up in Broxburn as a Rangers supporter, he found an early example of a keeper whose style he could emulate.

"I kind of based myself on Andy Goram – his work, speed, agility and reaction.

He pulled off some unbelievable saves, but he wasn't a 6ft 4in giant."

Taken from the Scotsman

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