Brad McKay admitted he may have played his last game for Hearts at Tynecastle, but the centre-half was determined to savour every last moment.
McKay - who will be joining St Johnstone in the summer after signing a pre-contract - was drafted into defence as Alim Ozturk was rested ahead of Sunday’s derby with Hibs.
The Riccarton graduate put in an assured performance, and was rewarded with a standing ovation from the 15,000-plus crowd as Robbie Neilson substituted him with fifteen minutes to play.
“The standing ovation was a really nice touch from the supporters,” said McKay. “I didn’t think they were going to give me it – so I turned around to clap them, just to make sure they did! It was a nice touch from the gaffer.
“I was tempted to milk it – take my shinpads off and pull the socks down and take my time! I really enjoyed that moment. If that was my last start in a Hearts jersey, then the supporters made it a special one.”
Despite signing a pre-contract with the Perth outfit in January, head coach Robbie Neilson has continually included Brad in matchday squads, with the defender often featuring from the bench.
A lifelong Jambo, McKay’s commitment has never been in question - a fact that the coaching staff used to their advantage, despite his imminent departure.
“I said to the manager that I never wanted to leave on bad terms or chuck anything,” he explained. “I’ve worked hard all season and I think the gaffer appreciates that I’ve pushed the guys who are playing, whether in under-20 games or in training, and I always wanted to leave on a high.”
Leaving the club he’s supported all his life was a painful one for McKay, but having weighed up his options, he let his head rule his heart and decided to move on for the sake of his career.
“It was a difficult decision to make and I thought long and hard about it,” he continued. “I decided that was the best thing for me and the manager agreed. The easiest thing in the world would have been to keep my head down until the end of the season and just hope that I got a new contract – but that was never the right thing to do.
“I pushed the manager hard to let me know where my future was. He said he didn’t know, but he was looking to stick with Danny and Alim, and I made the decision for myself.
“Leaving will be emotional,” he continued. “It has come in really quickly. I said to a couple of the boys: ‘This is my last month at Hearts’, and it just hit me.
“It feels like I should make the most of it, but I can’t think of a better way to leave than with a champion’s medal around my neck.”