Don Cowie is steeling himself for a gruelling pre-season under Craig Levein – 12 months after Ian Cathro’s inadequate preparations left unfit Hearts on course for calamity.
Cathro was sacked on the eve of the new league season after his side crashed out of the Betfred Cup at the group stage.
Cowie insists his team were left playing catch-up when the rookie boss favoured a less intense continental style of pre-season preparation.
Don Cowie is steeling himself for a gruelling pre-season under Craig Levein
But he is now bracing himself for the necessary evil of tough sessions to make sure the Tynecastle side are ready for the new campaign.
‘We weren’t fit enough last season. It wasn’t a demanding enough pre-season,’ said Cowie.
‘Maybe coming from the continental side, Ian went for a different approach.
‘He is entitled to have his opinion on they way he sees fit to have a pre-season.
‘But I just felt that it was definitely not as intense as I have experienced in my career.
‘And we were left playing catch-up in terms of fitness (when Levein took over).
‘He wanted to work us a bit harder and then you get a couple of injuries.
‘It was a vicious circle but there is no excuse now.
‘We’ve got a full pre-season coming up and we are fully aware what we are going to be getting next week. It’s going to be tough.’
Hearts unveiled their new home shirt for the 2018-19 season at Tynecastle on Thursday
Cowie is looking forward to being reunited with Steven Gerrard next season after the former Liverpool and England captain took over from Pedro Caixinha as Rangers boss.
Their paths last crossed in the 2012 Carling Cup Final when Cardiff City and Liverpool drew 2-2.
Cowie scored in the shootout, Gerrard failed, but Liverpool won 3-2 on penalties at Wembley.
‘Steven Gerrard is a player I looked up to during my career,’ he said.
‘We are similar ages and I’m a Liverpool fan so playing against him was a great occasion.
‘Unfortunately we lost on penalties and it was Steven’s cousin, Anthony Gerrard, who missed the decisive kick, which made it even more devastating.
‘Steven actually missed his penalty, although it was an unbelievable save, rather than a bad penalty.
Cowie insists his team were left playing catch-up after a less intense pre-season last year
‘But to get a guy like him up here in Scottish football can only be good for Scottish football, alongside guys like Brendan Rodgers at Celtic and Steve Clarke at Kilmarnock.’
So far this summer, Hearts have brought in eight new faces.
Levein has recruited Olly Lee, Steven MacLean, Jake Mulraney, Ryan Edwards, Benjamin Garuccio, Uche Ikpeazu, Zdenek Zlamal and Bobby Burns.
Cowie has been heartened by his side’s early summer transfer activity.
But he also believes the key to a good campaign will also lie is keeping striker Kyle Lafferty, who scored 19 goals last season and is interesting Apollon Limassol.
‘Kyle did well last season and his goals helped us enormously,’ Cowie said.
‘He was one away from scoring 20, which hasn’t been done for a long time at this club.
‘That shows how much relied on him. It’s no surprise there’s interest in him but it would be great if we could keep him.’
Don Cowie was speaking as Hearts launched their new kit and announced it had renewed its sponsorship deal with Save the Children for a further three years.