INVERNESS captain Richie Foran claims they are going into the League Cup final with a smile on their faces.
THERE are very few players who are offered, and sign, a new three-year contract at the age of 33. But then, there are very few players who are as valuable to their club as Richie Foran is to Inverness Caledonian Thistle.
Chairman Kenny Cameron keeps the business side of the club ticking over, and manager John Hughes has primary responsibility for the football division. But, make no mistake, the pivotal figure, the man upon whom the fortunes of the club rest – both in the immediate future when they meet Aberdeen in tomorrow’s League Cup final, and in the longer term – is the midfielder from Ireland.
As things stand, Foran is confident he can go on playing for the duration of his contract. But it would surprise no-one if, sometime between now and 2017, he were to graduate to a coaching role – initially while still being registered as a player. After that? Well, Foran himself would be too diplomatic to discuss a vacancy where none exists, but it would again be less than shocking were he to end up as manager of the club he joined five years ago.
He is a shrewd man, Foran, and a commanding presence. He does not need to strut around or in any way draw attention to himself to let you know his importance. The body language of his team-mates is enough to tell you that he is their leader. He fills the role so naturally now but, not so long ago, many people would hardly have seen him as a natural to take on such an important position. Far from it. Indeed, as a boy growing up in inner-city Dublin, Foran himself would probably have thought there could be few places in these islands more alien to him than laidback Inverness.
“I wouldn’t have seen myself as a captain as a youngster,” he says. “I always like to think I was on a leader on the park but, off the park, at times, I did not show I was captain material.
“Quite a few of my ex-managers and team mates would not have thought I was captain material, so I have changed a lot. I’ve changed a lot under the guidance of [former management team] Terry Butcher and Maurice Malpas. They made me into a better player, I think, and a better person.
“I’m a lot more sensible and mature these days. It comes with age. I have made mistakes in the past, but the main thing is, if you make mistakes, you have to learn from them. You can’t keep making them and I stopped making those mistakes and I learned from that.”
So Foran has grown up, and grown wise, and learned to feel at home in the Highlands. Indeed, now that he has settled down, with infant son Harris to look after, there is hardly anywhere else he would rather be.
“I love the club. It has given me a lot. It has given me massive, massive wonderful memories in the last five years – great experiences.
“I think I’ve been good for the club as well. It has been a great relationship. I love it here and it’s the most enjoyable time I have had as a footballer. “I love the Highlands. It’s a very, very relaxed place. It’s not a hard-core football city. People leave you alone in the town and on the streets. They’re very respectful in that department. It’s just all good since day one.
“It’s what I’ve always dreamed of, living in a place like this. On a sunny day there is no better place. People sum it up by saying it’s a place you come to retire. I’m not retiring just yet, but it is a fantastic place. There are no traffic jams, everyone is laid back, there is no rush to do anything. It is a life I love at the moment. I’ve had my madness. I’ve had my wild days, my wild cities. I’ve had it all, I’ve done it all. It was a perfect time to come and relax, to settle down.”
If Foran leads his team to victory at Celtic Park tomorrow, his stature at the Tulloch Caledonian Stadium will be greater than ever. But he has had no time for such pleasant daydreams.
“If you have a two-year-old son, you don’t have time to be thinking about cup finals until you’re on the bus on the A9 down the road,” he explains.
“My son is going to be the mascot for the game, which is fantastic. The chairman has done me a big favour in getting him in, as well as Billy McKay’s son and Carl Tremarco’s son. I have a great relationship with the chairman and he has looked after us very, very well. He’s a top man.”
Even if Foran does carry on playing for the duration of his contract, he knows that tomorrow may be his last appearance in a cup final. That makes him all the more determined to enjoy the occasion.
“I am 33, coming up 34, so it is quite possible that this could be my last cup final. We have a young team, with a lot of them in their early 20s, so I expect them to go on to a few cup finals, but myself, I’ll probably be lucky to get to another one so, yeah, that is why I am really going to enjoy it.
“For me, football used to be really life and death. My family could not ring me for a good two days after a defeat. I would be in a horrible mood. It would really affect me.
“It still affects me, but it doesn’t affect me as long any more. I will have a smile on my face leading up to this game. Once kick-off time comes, things change. But it’s just going to be a great occasion for everyone and you just have to embrace it.”