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Ex-Ireland U21 captain set to return after two-and-a-half years out of football

Aidy White could end a long lay-off by making his Scottish Premiership debut for Hearts this weekend.

WHEN THE HEARTS starting line-up is announced for Saturday’s home game against Ross County in the Scottish Premiership, it seems increasingly likely that it will feature the name of a man who last played a game of competitive football in January 2017.

After Aaron Hickey was sent off in last weekend’s defeat to Aberdeen, the Edinburgh club will have a vacancy at left-back for their first home league game of the season.

Aidan White Aidy White before an Ireland U21 game against Denmark in 2012. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

Having been on the bench for Sunday’s 3-2 loss at Pittodrie, Aidy White looks set to fill it. Should he be called upon, it will end a 31-month lay-off for the former Republic of Ireland U21 international. 

“Aidy has had to be patient and he has had little niggles,” Hearts manager Craig Levein told the Edinburgh Evening News. “I don’t know if he will last 90 minutes. He is still not 100% but obviously the temptation for me is to use Aidy this weekend.”

Hearts signed White as a free agent back in March. By then, over two years had passed since his injury nightmare began. Hip and groin issues have kept him out of the game since he started for Barnsley in a 1-0 win over Rotherham United in the Championship.

Nevertheless, Hearts deduced that the signing of a player whose career has been so significantly hindered by physical issues is a risk worth taking. Craig Levein put his faith in White — who turns 28 in October — by giving him a contract until the summer of 2021.

White was just 16 when he was handed his first-team debut at Leeds United in a 4-0 League Cup win against Crystal Palace in August 2008. He went on to make over 100 appearances for his hometown club, winning their Young Player of the Year award in 2010.

After signing for fellow Championship outfit Rotherham United in 2015, he later moved on to Barnsley, who he helped to achieve promotion via the League One play-offs before injury struck.

Soccer - Carling Cup - Third Round - Leeds United v Manchester United - Elland Road White playing for Leeds United against Manchester United in September 2011. Source: PA Archive/PA Images

Although the English-born full-back represented the country of his birth at U19 level, Irish ancestry allowed him to switch allegiance. He played every minute for the Ireland U21s in their Euro 2013 qualifying campaign, captaining a side that included Matt Doherty and John Egan in a 4-2 victory away to Italy.

“It’s not for me to say whether he will or should play for the senior side – that would be down to the national coach to decide – but he’s definitely got the potential to get there in the future,” former Ireland U21 manager Noel King told the Yorkshire Evening Post after White scored in a qualifying win against Liechenstein.

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“You’ve seen plenty of players over the years who’ve excelled for the U21s and never quite made the next step so nothing’s certain, but Aidan’s a player with the desire to move mountains. I see huge potential in him.”

For now, an Ireland senior call-up is unlikely to be in White’s immediate thoughts. After such a long absence, emerging unscathed from a competitive fixture will be a notable achievement for a player whose only taste of pre-season action was a 45-minute outing against Glenavon.

Last month, Craig Levein spoke of White’s ability in glowing terms, expressing the view that the player would have been beyond the reach of Hearts were it not for his injury problems.

“Yes, and that was the risk and reward side of it,” Levein told the Scottish Herald. “We were taking on somebody who hadn’t played for that length of time against what he could offer if we got him fully fit.

Aug 07, 2019 16:50 White's first Leeds United goal came in a League Cup win over Everton.

“Nobody would dispute that he was a really good player before his injury troubles started. He has had to be patient, so have we, because he’s been out for a long time. I can see signs that he’s going to be useful for us. His speed and technical ability are good.

“We hope things go according to plan. He has had a few niggles here and there, which I would expect after such a long period of inactivity, but I hope he will be okay.

“It isn’t just about getting to the point where he can start playing again — which he is at now. It’s about building up that resistance you need to play week-in, week-out. That’s another question that needs to be answered.

“But we can only talk about now and say he is in a good place.”

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Paul Dollery

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