Nat Atkinson confident Hearts are heading for glory under Steven Naismith and uses Down Under example

Nat Atkinson knows Hearts fans might struggle to comprehend how this season’s Hampden hardships can be a springboard for success with Sunday’s semi final setback still raw.

But nobody needs to convince the Aussie that adversity can lead to triumph after he turned agony to ecstasy as a breakthrough kid back home in the A-League with Melbourne City.

As a result he doesn’t just hope - he is absolutely convinced Hearts will be winners under Steven Naismith. Atkinson was an A-League Championship and Premiership runner-up down under in 2019-20.

As a raw 20-year-old he wasn’t sure how to digest the pain of being so close yet so far. That was until a senior member of City’s squad told him it would be the fire to light their drive to glory. And that’s exactly how it turned out.

A Premiership and Grand Final winner’s medal was secured 12 months later before Atkinson decided to make the switch half way across the globe to Gorgie. From Edinburgh he watched his old side go on to make it three A-League Premiership titles in a row.

It might be half the world away but the lessons were the exact same. On top of that Atkinson has watched Naismith roll with the punches at the start of the season - and come back stronger for it by guiding Hearts 11 points clear in third spot.

So it’s no wonder the Jambos ace has urged his team mates to lift themselves off the canvas after a second semi final KO of the season to Rangers and prove they can land a big one next season.

There’s no doubt in his mind that a first major success since the Scottish Cup win in 2012 is in the post. He said: “100 per cent. Hearts is a big club and we haven’t won silverware in a while, but we all want to be a part of that team that brings that first bit of silverware back.

“You have to go through the hardships. For me, personally, I came from Melbourne City. We were a new team in Australia and were knocked out from a lot of finals and then we went on to win three leagues in a row.

“So it is about growth. We obviously have to believe in ourselves and want to grow, look at the mistakes we make and learn from them.

“A big thing when I lost my first final in Australia, one of the senior boys said: This is a good thing to be in this situation because we can use it as fire, but you have got to learn from it. We’ve all got to learn from this to set things right in the future.

“You never know when your next semi-final is going to be. But if we can continue the growth, we’ve shared some good things this season, we’re third in the table at the moment and a couple of more wins will get our confidence moving into Europe next season as well.

“The good thing about the manager is that he is a cool and collected type of guy. When he first came in and results were not going our way early on, everyone [outside the club] goes for the gaffer’s head.

“But we stuck to what we thought was the right thing to do, we built on the way we wanted to play and the results started to come. We have solidified ourselves in third and now we have to build on that.

“He has been known to make changes when things are not going our way and you can see, he says it is all about learning and growing for himself as well.”

Atkinson had to sit out the first of this season’s semi finals against Rangers - November’s 3-1 Viaplay Cup defeat - through injury. But he insists the Jambos’ progress between those two Hampden performances was clear for all to see. Now it’s about taking the next step to prove they really can close the gap on the Old Firm.

He said: “The boys are disappointed. I think it was a much better performance than the last semi-final. Obviously I was disappointed I had to watch that one at home. But this one, it was good that the team bounced back and got to another semi-final. You have to take the positives out of that.

“We say we always want to close the gap to the Old Firm and these opportunities are the ones we have to take. At the moment, we just have to continue to grow as a team. I feel we have done that from last season and we’ll kick on from here.

“We started off slow on Sunday by conceding an early goal, but other than that, I thought we were on top of them for a lot of the game. We had a lot of the ball, but we didn’t score or get that really clear-cut chance. When we did, Butland made a save from Oda. He’s kicking himself as well. If we score one, then you don’t know what happens.”