Hearts defender Nathaniel Atkinson is eagerly anticipating the Scottish Cup final after a busy start to 2022 that’s seen him make a positive impact at his club and earn recognition for his country.
The 22-year-old joined Robbie Neilson’s side in January in a move from Melbourne City and was quickly handed an opportunity to play regularly when Michael Smith was injured.
The Australian has been part of the side that nailed third place in the league and booked a place in the Scottish Cup final, as well as securing European group stage football for next season.
Though there are still league games to play, Atkinson says the fact that there’s a Hampden showdown with Rangers on the horizon is something he is really looking forward to. Though family may not travel from Down Under to watch the showpiece game, he knows they’ll be cheering him on from home as he bids to land a winner’s medal within months of arriving in Scotland.
“Very exciting,” he said. “Obviously every player wants to play in a grand final and there’s nothing bigger than playing against Rangers as well. This is what we set out to do from the start of the season.
“Obviously I came in half way through that in the Auchinleck game and now we’re here in the final.
“I don’t think I’ll have anyone over for it. It’s a bit hard with work and travel but I think Cammy Devlin’s parents might come over so that will be the Aussies in the stadium!
“Back home, everyone will wake up, I don’t think they will miss it for the world.
“Everybody wants to play as many games as possible and it was unfortunate for Smudge (Michael Smith), that he picked up that injury and being out for so long. Hopefully we can push him to get back for the grand final and give us more options.
“Competition makes you improve, that’s what everyone here us to do and obviously moving into Europe next season we need to be as good as possible.”
Atkinson’s name will be better known in his homeland after performances for Hearts earned him an international call-up and he earned his first cap for Australia in a World Cup qualifier against Saudi Arabia in March.
“It was obviously a great moment for me and a surreal moment as well,” he said. “I’ve obviously had a taste of that now and to come back here, to put your best foot forward with the national team is to perform with your club and that’s what I’m here to do.
“Obviously, Saudi Arabia qualified for the World Cup and they had a packed stadium there and that’s what I want to experience as well with our countrymen.
“These games coming up will put me in a good stead for the play-offs if I keep performing.
“I think being in European football that’s always been a dream of mine and coming to a club like this with history, that’s put me forward for the national team.”
Hearts fans have quickly developed an affection for the defender and already have a song for him,sung to Following The Sun by Super-Hi x NEEKA. Atkinson admitted it had got in his head easily.
He said: “It’s pretty catchy isn’t it? I’ve found myself singing it a few times and Cammy Devlin tends to remind me about it!
“It’s a different culture from Australia. The fans here just eat and breathe football and they’ll die for their club. They fill out this stadium every week and it’s nothing but a blessing.
“Form is a big part of football and we’ve got these games to get us ready for the big game in the grand final as well. Everyone’s happy, everyone’s ready to turn up for training with a smile on their face and I think everyone enjoys their company and I think that’s a big reason why we’ve been so successful this season.”