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'I've never been to an Ireland game but this is not to be missed'

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Foran will be at Celtic Park tomorrow to see his first Ireland international game

Foran will be at Celtic Park tomorrow to see his first Ireland international game

Ken Macpherson

Foran will be at Celtic Park tomorrow to see his first Ireland international game

RICHIE Foran, professional footballer, ex-League of Ireland star and currently captain of Inverness Caledonian Thistle in the Scottish Premier League, has never attended an international soccer match.

Also on his bucket list of 'things I haven't done and am unlikely to do' are a visit to an English Premier League game and a trip to watch an Old Firm clash between Celtic and Rangers.

Foran doesn't even have the usual array of sports channels included on his television subscription.

The Aviva Stadium - or Lansdowne Road as it was when he was growing up in Dublin - remains uncharted territory. Croke Park, however, home of his beloved Dubs, was a favourite haunt during Foran's formative years.

Special

So after all this time playing the game for a living instead of spectating, it takes something special to transform Richie Foran from player to fan.

And that 'something special' is tomorrow night's Euro 2016 Group D qualifying match between the Republic of Ireland and Scotland at Parkhead.

"I've never been to an international, and I've never been to an English Premier League game. I've never been to an Old Firm game," he says.

"I'm a GAA man at heart. I've been to Croke Park many a time, and I've followed Dublin around, but I've never been one for going to watch soccer matches.

"But the build-up has been fantastic over the last few weeks so I thought it would be nice to go down and obviously cheer on Ireland.

"I've been lucky enough to get a few tickets, so I'm really looking forward to the night. This one is not to be missed."

The 34-year-old former striker is now a midfield general, and has graced the Parkhead pitch during his time in Scottish football, but being among the fans will be a whole new experience.

Foran is on the long-term injured list at Inverness but with is consoled by the performances of his team-mates under the guidance of Celtic legend John 'Yogi' Hughes.

A bone disease in his knee required surgery and a long rehabilitation which the Dubliner hopes will be complete around Christmas time.

For those who followed his at times turbulent career in the League of Ireland with Shelbourne, it might come as a surprise to find Richie is patiently dealing with his enforced absence from football, and loving the quiet life in the Highlands of Scotland.

"I haven't kicked a ball since March, but I hope to be back before Christmas, please God," he says. "I'm all right. Injuries have never bothered me too much simply because I know there's far more people worse off than me.

"I've had knee injuries before, I've broken a cheekbone and been out for months.

"I really don't get down about injuries. I'm getting the best of treatment, the best of surgeons, getting the best of rehab in the best facilities, so I'm not complaining.

"Plus, my team are doing very, very well, which makes it easier as well."

Inverness Caley Thistle are level on points with Celtic at the head of the Scottish Premier League. They have played 13 matches, one more than the Hoops.

Inverness CT are the unfashionable Highlands side that punches well above their weight while big guns Rangers, Hearts and Hibs are in the Scottish Championship and desperate for a return to the top division.

Mecca

Relatively isolated, with Perth 100 miles away, Aberdeen around 60 miles further on and Glasgow a three-and-a-half-hour drive, Inverness is hardly a footballing mecca, but for Foran, Caley Thistle is a great club.

"We don't get the massive amount of supporters that we'd like to get, but the club is well run. We've a good chairman and a good board," he explains.

"They do things right. They don't go out and spend crazy money for players that they can't afford. They're not willing to go and get big bank loans and get into debt. It's the right way.

"We seem to get something out of the lads when they come up here. The players really just adapt and you embrace the lifestyle up here.

"It's a relaxed way of life. There's no traffic jams, no queues. The people are really good.

"To describe it, it's probably a bit like the west of Ireland, scenery wise.

"It's out of the way but I love it. You've a five-minute drive and you're out by a loch or out by some mountain. Loch Ness is close by. The golfing's great, the fishing's great. If you're into walking it's fantastic.

"It's either for you or it's not but the players seem to embrace it up here. They love it.

"We socialise together that little bit more, in terms of going out for coffees during the day, and lads hanging about with each other.

"You don't get that with other clubs. I think that helps us on the park and lads pull together."

The Caley Thistle skipper combines his rehab work with coaching the club's U-20s and U-14s, and stays close to the first-team players.

Manager Hughes is on the record of saying the loss of Foran to Caley Thistle is as big as Scott Brown being missed by Celtic when he was on the injured list.

You sense from Foran his feeling of responsibility and loyalty to the Highlands club.

He remains quietly determined to return to active duty as soon as possible without foolishly rushing his recovery.

Among Shelbourne fans, Foran is still very fondly remembered.

He was included in the 2009 book 'Shelbourne Cult Heroes' written by proud Reds fanatic Sean Fitzpatrick, even though Foran had only played for the club for less than two seasons.

Fitzpatrick's succinct profile included a reminder that in his first full season for the Reds in 2000/01, Foran had ended the campaign by winning the PFAI Young Player of the Year award, scored home and away against Rosenberg of Norway in the Champions League, and was capped at U-21 level for the Republic.

Negative

On the negative side, Fitzpatrick wrote: "However, this was all overshadowed by five red cards, and another in a Gaelic football match he wasn't meant to be playing in.

"He also managed to be thrown out of the Irish U-21 squad" - a reference to a curfew issue with the manager Don Givens.

Dermot Keely, Foran's Shelbourne manager at the time, described him in the 'Cult Heroes' book as "a jewel to work with and a phenomenal talent."

That talent has taken Foran from Shels to a journey in UK football which included a Millennium Stadium appearance in the LDV Vans Trophy final for Carlisle United, through the lower echelons in England, on to Motherwell and finally to Inverness.

So what's it like to be Irish and a footballer in Scotland this week?

"It's very exciting at the moment. The Scottish fans love their football and they've been talking about this game for weeks and weeks. Parkhead is going to be rocking," he says.

"I think it's going to be a cracking atmosphere for the supporters, but maybe not a cracking spectacle.

"Both sets of players are going to be quite nervous. They might cancel each other out. I'm not expecting a lot of goals. I'm not even expecting it to be a really exciting game to watch but it will be a really exciting atmosphere in the stand.

"Scotland have some dangermen, the likes of Steven Fletcher and Steven Naismith. I played against both of them, Fletcher when he was with Hibs, and Naismith when he was playing for Rangers.

"They've got a bit of quality, these boys, but I think the Irish have that little bit more. I do see an Irish win but it's going to be tough and it's going to be close and I can't see any team running away with it."

Scottish manager Gordon Strachan spoke recently about the need to get Rangers, Hearts and Hibs into the top tier of Scottish football by any means possible. Is that view insulting to the likes of Foran and teams such as Caley Thistle?

"The majority of Scots follow either Celtic or Rangers, so I understand when people say there's only Celtic and Rangers in that league, and that's all there is to it," he says.

"Me, I don't feel that. Definitely my team-mates don't feel that. We feel we're there by right. We feel we play good football and attractive football. We're second in the league and we deserve to be there.

"Rangers, Hearts, Hibs, are fantastic places to go and play football, so I miss them as well, but two of them will come up, so it will be an interesting Premiership next year."

Irish Independent