Saulius Mikoliunas may well possess the elixir of life. A man who has not aged in 19 years.

Now retired, aged 39, he still has the appearance of the baby-faced winger who first appeared as a second-half substitute for Heart of Midlothian in a 2-1 win at Livingston in January 2005.

Over the years Hearts fans have wondered how he has defeated time, won the battle with the aging process. If he does process some secret power he wasn't forthcoming in an exclusive interview with Hearts Standard but did explain why he was able to carry on until he was 39.

"No, no! Maybe they say that because they want to be polite," he laughed. "With experience, I start to feel my body very well. I live close to the forest I knew how to prepare my body for the games. I was doing some running, some jumping, some sprints up the hill because I knew I needed power.

"If you lose power it’s finished, You are losing power, you are losing speed, you are losing everything. I knew I had to keep on top of that. Genetically I maybe had this power inside of me.

"Mentally I was preparing myself. In my head, I was always fighting making sure not to give up, not let players overrun me. Keep in my head a fighting spirit."

Hearts Standard:

But last year he knew it was time to call quits on his playing career. One that spanned two decades. He tried to do so earlier, once he had reached the 100-cap milestone for Lithuania and had represented Zalgiris Vilnius in the UEFA Conference League, the first time a Lithuanian club had reached the group stage of a European competition.

"It was not a sad moment, I was happy," he said of his retirement. "I finished at an old age, I gave everything to football and I couldn’t give more. My soul was calm and I knew it was the right time to finish. I couldn’t give anything extra to football.

"I was thinking of maybe finishing on the high because one of the targets for myself was to reach 100 caps for the national team and to get into the group stage of the Conference League with the Lithuanian team.

"In the same year I reached both targets and I was thinking to retire but the coach and owner asked me to stay for one more year. I agreed and said final year but it didn't start very well. In pre-season, in the first game, I twisted my ankle and the healing and rehab went too long. I noticed my body wasn’t healing as I wanted, it took time. It was a sign that year was my last one."

READ MORE: Andrius Velicka: Hearts success, derby goals, sent home by Romanov, Ally McCoist bet

It was one of many fulfilling years in football. A journey that took him to Scotland and then to Ukraine before returning home. Even he couldn't have predicted or foreseen the Indian summer lasting so long and being quite so productive and memorable.

Trophy-laden, a centurion, a history maker. 

"I think it was one of the best times," he said. "When I left Lithuania to go to Scotland it was amazing. Every period of my footballing career was amazing. When I was young I came to a football country, such crowds, such big stadiums, the Scottish mentality, the football religion and people are crazy about football. For me, it was so emotional and good.

"I went to Ukraine and football level I think was better. I was really enjoying it in Ukraine also. I then came back home after such a long time being abroad. I finally came back because my son started to go to school and I thought it was time to come back, live at home and have more time with my parents, friends, my family.

"It was really enjoyable at Zalgiris because the team is ambitious, the best team in the history of Lithuania, fighting for the highest targets, fighting to be champions all the time and participating in Champions League qualifying and then a really good format of UEFA."

Between 2018 and retirement, European involvement would take him to Sevilla, Bodo/Glimt, Linfield, who he scored against, Ferencvaros, Ludogorets, Malmo, Basel and Galatasaray.

On the international scene, he'd face Italy, Spain and Portugal after an absence of three years. In March 2016 he faced Russia, earning his 75th cap. It appeared to be his last, especially when a torn knee ligament ended his 2017 campaign. Curiously, it took until Valdas Urbonas took over from former Hearts and Lithuania team-mate Edgaras Jankauskas for Mikoliunas to be persuaded back to the national team having coached him at Zalgiris.

"I had a period where I didn’t play for three years, I had a break," he confirmed. "I thought I was already finished with the national team and thought it was time for the youngsters to play but then my previous coach who was with me at Zaligiris, we had a really good relationship, he called me and said, ‘Saulius, please, come to play national team’.

"I spoke with my family and decided to come back. I played another five years!"

READ MORE: Eduard Malofeev: The infamous interim spell - 34 players, pre-season mutiny, vodka

At that point reaching 100 caps wasn't on the horizon. He viewed it as being "too difficult" because he didn't think he'd "be playing for so long". Then each year he got closer and closer.

"My body let me compete with the youngsters," he said. "I was closer to that goal. I passed 92 and thought, ‘Another eight games so that is another year. You need to be fit, you cannot be injured'.

And then it was reached.

"I felt blessed and calm," he revealed. "Inside it was like..." Mikoliunas took a pause, blows out his cheeks and added: "...finally, I reach my goal.

"It was a big honour for me. I think for every player it is the biggest honour to represent your country, especially when I was announced as the captain, the leader of the group. It’s a big honour and big responsibility."

By the time Mikoliunas had joined the likes of Sergio Aguero, Claudio Taffarel and Yaya Toure as internationals to amass 101 caps, he had been reinvented as a full-back. On the left or on the right. Asked if he could imagine himself in the future playing in defence when he was at Hearts it couldn't be further from his mind. 

"When I was around 31 I became a defender," he said. "It was good because playing as a winger you need to be physically prepared well and as a right-back you can find the time to rest and you are more experienced and split your energy. My youth coach said that I could maybe be a right-back, he was the first who told me."

Hearts Standard:

However, he isn't, or wasn't, the only defender in his family. Kajus his teenage son is carving out a burgeoning career. And while his father Saulius used to share a pitch with Deividas Cesnauskis at Hearts and with Lithuania, Kajus now shares the left-hand side with Devidas Jr. The latter a left-back, the former a winger.

Born just a few months apart, they are best friends and unlike their right-footed fathers, they are both left-footed. 

Their presence in the same team provides the former Hearts duo with a chance to reunite and connect regularly on the sidelines.

"They will be 16 soon," he said. "They are best friends and playing for the same team so it is nice for me and Deividas to go and watch our sons playing. It’s good moments. We had our time playing and now we’re both watching our sons."

"Kajus came to Scotland when he was two and a half months," Mikoliunas added when asked if he would be eligible for Scotland. "I hope they will both represent Lithuania in the future."

READ MORE: Branimir Kostadinov: My Hearts dream, why it didn't work out and career since

Having stepped away from playing, Mikoliunas has chosen a different route than Jankuaskas and Andrius Velicka who have gone into coaching and Deividas Cesnauskis who is an agent. His immediate future is in helping try to grow women's football in Lithuania via a director role at MFA Žalgiris-MRU.

"We have a really good academy," he explained. "I think we have one of the best in Lithuania for women because we have the structure of all the girls playing in all the competitions, from youth to our championship. We have a futsal team, good youth and looking forward to grow as a club and as an academy. 

"MRU is the university and we are partnering with the university because the girls who want to finish studying can play for us and have free education. It is good for them to finish university.

"I see a lot of potential. Globally, women’s football is growing very fast and in Lithuania, we want to have competitive teams and participate in the Champions League qualifying games and now from next year, there will be a Europa League for women so second place in the league table will be participating in that tournament. We have six teams. Gintra have been champions for around 20 years in a row.

"Now the rest of the teams have a chance to go to Europe and are bringing better quality foreign players so the league is growing. I want it to grow fast but step by step it is better to go slow for the long term."

He added: "It’s hard. It’s one thing as a player and totally different in management. I am looking excited about the role and always staying positive and I think I will do a good job."

Part II  of Saulius Mikoliunas' exclusive interview with Hearts Standard can be read HERE.