Nathaniel Atkinson admits his move to Hearts has exceeded expectations so far.
The 22-year-old arrived at Tynecastle from Melbourne City in January and an injury to regular right-back Michael Smith has paved the way for the Australian to become a starter in a side which has secured third place in the cinch Premiership and reached the Scottish Cup final.
In addition, Atkinson also made his international debut in the Socceroos’ World Cup qualifier against Saudi Arabia last month.
“The first few months here have been good for me,” he said. “We finished third, secured European football, a place in the final and I’ve also made the national team so if you’d said I’d have all this 18 months ago, I don’t think I’d have believed you.
“I’ve probably played more than I expected when I first came. It was unfortunate for Smudge (Smith) that he picked up that injury and has been out for so long. It will be good to have him back soon because competition makes you improve.”
Atkinson is eager to end a dream season with Scottish Cup glory against Rangers at Hampden and qualification for the World Cup, with the Aussies having to overcome United Arab Emirates and Peru in the play-offs in June if they are to make it to Qatar.
“Now I’ve had a taste of it, I need to keep putting my best foot forward with my club,” he said of his international breakthrough. “I want to be involved in the play-offs and these games coming up (for Hearts) can put me in good stead for that if I keep performing.
“It’s a great ending to the season. The cup final then play-offs to get to the World Cup, it’s amazing.”
Atkinson – whose side host Ross County on Saturday – has struck up a strong bond with Hearts supporters and loves the fact they already have a song for him, to the tune of Following The Sun by Super-Hi x NEEKA.
“It’s pretty catchy, isn’t it?” he said. “I’ve found myself singing it a couple of times and (team-mate) Cammy Devlin likes to remind me of it at times. I’ve been surprised at how quickly the fans have taken to me.
“It’s a different culture to Australia. The fans here just eat and breathe football and will die for their club. They fill out the stadium every week and it’s nothing but a blessing to have that support.”