There was a moment towards the end of the first half at Rugby Park on Saturday when the ball broke to Cammy Devlin on the edge of the area. With no Killie players rushing out to close him down, the energetic Aussie attempted to curl the ball delicately into the far corner, only for his effort to come bouncing back off the crossbar.

It was a moment that neatly summed up Heart of Midlothian’s trip to Ayrshire. Close, but no cigar. Despite controlling the game during the first half and racking up chance after chance, Steven Naismith’s side were unable to break the deadlock and ultimately had to settle for a point in a 0-0 draw.

A win would have wrapped up third and confirmed European group-stage football next season, but players, staff and supporters alike were made to put the celebrations on hold for now. With Hearts 11 points clear of Derek McInnes’ fourth-placed side with only four games to play, though, it won’t be long before everyone associated to the Gorgie club is digging out their passports.

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It was fitting that it was Devlin who came closest to opening the scoring at the weekend. Playing in a more advanced role, the 25-year-old was the game’s standout performer and his runs in behind the hosts’ backline caused all sorts of problems.

Devlin’s efforts ultimately went unrewarded as the match ended in stalemate and although the Australia internationalist was eager to stress that Hearts are not quite there yet, the prospect of a European tour dominated the post-match discussion on Saturday. Having already sampled a Europa Conference League campaign during his first season in the capital, Devlin is understandably excited by it all.

“The experiences for us as players, the club as a whole and obviously the fans [are a huge draw],” he said.

“I can just imagine those away days and being in the crowd. I had a few of my mates in Florence and they just had the best time. I can imagine that would be so good, getting to go away with your mates and watch your team play.

“As a player, getting to play at these cool stadiums – PAOK, Fiorentina – it was just such a good experience. Winning away in Riga – for Hearts, winning away in Europe is such a good achievement. But I feel like we want to make the European group-stage thing what we kind of expect year-to-year. Obviously that isn’t easy because it’s a really tough league.

“You come to places like this [Rugby Park] on Saturday, play really well and still don’t win. Winning these sorts of games will make it a lot easier for us. I’m desperate to get back to the group stages because it’s such a great experience and a great way to perform.”

Last season’s European campaign was a memorable one for everyone involved and while Devlin is certain that supporters enjoyed themselves, there were also occasions where Hearts found themselves on the wrong end of a heavy scoreline. The 5-1 defeat to Fiorentina in Florence stung, for instance, but Devlin points out that there is no shame in that. Testing yourself against the continent’s best, he argues, is what it’s all about.

Devlin said: “They’re good teams, aren’t they? You’re playing against Fiorentina and I’m sure they went on to make the final. And they’re still in it this year. So you’re coming against massive, massive teams but those are the games where you want to test yourself.

“Games against the Old Firm and European ones are the games you want to play in as a footballer. There’s a big crowd and a great atmosphere, and it’s a great place to go and perform with your mates. So I am just desperate to get back there and hopefully we can go a lot better.

“We still have to wrap this up because it’s close but it’s not done. When we get back there, it’s different to the Scottish games and you have got to adapt. Having that busy schedule is just class, man.”

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With Hearts expected to rake in at least £5million through prize money and television income from Europe next season, it seems safe to assume that Naismith will have a fairly healthy transfer budget heading into the summer window.

The extra cash should help strengthen the squad – better players tend to command higher fees, after all, and the prospect of European football is a sizable carrot to dangle in front of players during negotiations – which begs an obvious question: if the money is spent wisely and Hearts continue to improve, can they start to close the gap with the Old Firm?

“I think it’s so important for the club to bring that money in,” Devlin reasoned. “It brings so much in terms of players. And playing in Europe is going to attract people too. The fans get in amongst it.

“It’s so unfortunate that we’ve been to Hampden twice this year and lost to Rangers both times. Obviously last week we lost 2-0 but I felt on the pitch that it was close and we played well.

“It’s about getting as close as we can and working as hard as we can every single day. We go out with a game plan to win every single game and it doesn’t matter who it’s against. If we can do that then brilliant. But they are massive football clubs, aren’t they? It’s about getting as close as we can – and I feel we are on the right track.”