THE unprecedented occurrences surrounding Inverness Caledonian Thistle in recent days extended beyond the club making their bow in European football. The day before their 1-0 defeat at home to Astra Giurgiu in the Europa League second round qualifier, club captain Richie Foran was interviewed on radio. Hankies were at the ready before the Irishman started to speak.
Following 15 months out with knee problems, Foran, it seemed, would have a sob story to tell. He had, after all, missed the Highland club’s annus mirabilis – having personally made such a significant contribution to Inverness being transformed from would-be strugglers at the bottom of the table to a side capable of earning entry into continental competition twice, essentially, thanks to a historic Scottish Cup win in May that followed a third-place top flight finish.
The 35-year-old, asked about the agonies of missing such a glorious season, was expected to express frustration, disappointment, and self pity. To tell of dark nights of the soul when the possibility of never playing again consumed thoughts. It is the long-term-injured footballer’s way, because players are only ordinary beings and it is human nature to lose perspective when enduring personal problems.
Instead, Foran wholly played down his travails, and in humbling fashion declared that “there are worse things”. His maker must have taken note, with the combative forward the next day given his senior return in the closing minutes of Thursday’s ill-deserved defeat by the Romanians.
“I’m not looking to be applauded,” Foran said, when commended for his humility on the airwaves. “I only had a minor knee injury and I’m a very blessed person to have what I have in life. I’ve got a beautiful wife and son. I had a knee injury. I visited the top surgeon in Europe and had the top physio treatment, facilities and best of care.
“I was getting paid my wages – what is there to get down about? I’m a team player and it’s all about the squad, not an individual. Life is great and has been for the last 15 months.
I was getting paid my wages – what is there to get down about? Life is great and has been for the last 15 monthsRichie Foran
“I’d rather miss the season I did than one where we were fighting relegation. It would have been hard sitting in the stand and not being in the dressing room helping the lads out, so I had a smile on my face all year.”
Yet he wasn’t prepared to take any delight in the fact that the Astra encounter proved a landmark occasion in his long rehabilitation. “I get no satisfaction out of coming back in a game where we lost,” Foran said. “That’s the way I am as a person. It’s all about the team and the club. We lost – and I’m disappointed. But I don’t want to sound too doom and gloom. I’m disappointed we didn’t win the game but we’re still well in it. It’s a sticky lead for them and they won’t be too comfortable.”
Astra, though, should be comfortable with the fact that, in 60 years of European competition, Scottish sides have only won through on two occasions after losing a home opening leg 1-0. For John Hughes’ men to achieve the extraordinary in their first ever away game in the arena is surely expecting too much. And yet, Astra, with a raft of summer signings, looked a shadow of the side that were unfortunate to lose to Celtic in the Europa League group stages last year.
That said, Inverness, too, are feeling their way following personnel changes across the summer. The loss of defensive lynchpin Graeme Shinnie and forwards Marley Watkins and Edward Ofere robs the 21-year-old club of three integral figures in the snaring of a first major trophy.
Summer recruit Dani Lopez looked to have something to offer on his Inverness debut the other night, but keeper Owain Fon Williams didn’t cover himself in glory when beaten by Constantin Budescu’s free-kick midway through the opening period. Thereafter, Astra were content to soak up Inverness’s pressure. Foran draws hope from the fact that a different approach will be demanded of them in front of their own fans at the Marin Anastasovici Stadium this Thursday.
“They might come out and play a little bit. I think they might be quite nervous in the return leg in Romania,” he said. “The first leg was an even game. I think they were quite comfortable on the ball and so were we. There wasn’t a lot of penetration from either side. It was never going to be 3-3 or 4-4.
“We’ve got to come out this week but maybe they were a bit cuter than us in terms of winning free kicks, taking their time and getting the physios on for treatment. They slowed the game down while our supporters were getting behind us. They were clever in doing that and working the referee.
“We’ve still got a great chance – we only need a goal and we’re back in the tie. We’ve got three new players and the goalkeeper has only just come in so we can get to know each other a bit more and we’ll be confident going over there. There are goals in us with Ryan Christie, Aaron Doran and Dani Lopez and we’re confident. I think there’s more pressure on them than there is on us.”
The idea of pressure when he has so much about which he feels grateful probably feels alien to the admirable Foran.