With a mountain to climb, Highland fling resurrected Morais' career

THE WORDS are dramatic but Filipe Morais does not feel he is overstating matters. Inverness Caledonian Thistle saved him, he says. The move that many saw as a step down was actually the best thing that could have happened to him.

Months on and with a new challenge ahead of him at St Johnstone, he still looks back on his migration from Edinburgh to the Highlands as the beginning of a rehabilitation process which now has him brimming with confidence and enthusiasm.

A successful first year at Hibs under John Collins was followed by a period where he became a non-person at Easter Road. Rarely selected, he was then plagued with regrets after he assaulted a casino doorman. As he talks, it's clear he is keen to draw a line under it all, desperate to move on and hopeful that there will come a day when that period of his life will no longer feature in interviews. Where the past threatened to engulf him in fears of inadequacies, the future is again bursting with possibilities.

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His stint at Inverness reminded not only himself but others of the player he could be and he was signed up by St Johnstone in the summer. He is now a key component in a squad that is hell-bent on retaining the SPL status the club worked so hard to win. He believes in the cause so much that it's hard to even contemplate the notion of relegation come May. He went through that scrap at Inverness and although they lost out, he moved on and survived to fight another season.

"Obviously I don't want to be in that situation again but I really don't think it will come to that with St Johnstone. I believe this squad is full of ability. I think Inverness were unfortunate to go down but I find it hard to believe that St Johnstone will be down there this year. I believe we have enough to cause other teams problems and still be all right at the back."

They struggled in that department last week at Parkhead, losing 5-2 to Celtic, but even that has not dented the confidence. Disappointment was the overwhelming feeling, not worry. The slackness in defence was uncharacteristic, he says, the goals at the other end a reminder that they can unpick even the top-level sides.

It is a level of self-confidence that was absent in the aftermath of Collins' era at Hibs. "At the start at Hibs it was great, but when he left it went downhill. I can't stress enough how much Inverness saved me. In January I wasn't playing at Hibs and I was never going to play and I needed something. I had gone from, six months earlier, clubs being interested to having nothing and I was lucky to get Inverness. I grabbed my opportunity with both hands. It was perfect for me, it was quiet and I could concentrate on football and I got my career back on track and I'm so grateful to Inverness and Craig Brewster for that."

Brewster may have signed him but the 23-year-old credits Terry Butcher with a lot of the rebuilding work. "Terry Butcher was great for me, he gave me confidence and played me as a striker and I got goals. I knew I had a lot to prove and I was under pressure but I still did well and that was great for my self-belief, just what I needed and I want to kick on again now."

According to the Portuguese-born attacking midfielder, Butcher was a man who would have players wanting to run through brick walls for him. "I have never felt like that before other than with Owen Coyle." He played for Coyle while on loan at McDiarmid Park prior to the permanent move from Millwall to Hibs and despite the odd blip, he says recent years have been blessed with the guidance of quality managers, including his current one, Derek McInnes.

"He's similar to John Collins, he's a perfectionist. John would look at everything on and off the pitch, fitness, what you were eating, record games and make you watch it to see where you could do better and Derek is the same, he likes to look back at things and make sure we correct ourselves and improve. I think John Collins was brilliant and it's the same with the gaffer here. He's a perfectionist and gets the boys going before games. Working with good managers, I have learned a lot and, slowly, I am maturing," he laughs. Players together at Millwall, it was McInnes who had recommended Morais to Coyle. "That's a real positive for me because he knows me inside out and he really helps me because he knows what makes me tick, what I need, how I can improve, and he gives me confidence. He believes in me and sometimes as a player that's all you need, someone who has done it at a high level to tell you that you're a good player or you can go far."

Talking of managers, he says he likes the man in charge of this afternoon's opponents, Csaba Laszlo. "I think he is great, he entertains me!" But he would like to add to the Hearts manager's woes. At Hibs, he played in three derbies, winning one, losing one and drawing one, and beams at the prospect of a warm welcome from the Hearts fans. "I'm sure I will get some hate," he says, smiling, "but I loved those games and the atmosphere. It will be different now I'm playing for St Johnstone but the games against the bigger teams are the ones ambitious players look forward to."

And ambition matches belief at McDiarmid Park.