Foran tamed in wild of Inverness
Former Shels 'bad boy' keen to prove new-found maturity against Celtic
RICHIE FORAN is part of a select group in the Scottish football community right now. They are the minority who understand the anguish and frustration felt by El Hadji Diouf.
The Senegal striker's switch to Rangers prompted a wave of emotion north of the border, adding an extra spark to the already inflammatory relationship with Celtic. He was central to the drama of the recent Old Firm derby, which ended with scenes that were debated in the Scottish parliament.
From his berth in Inverness, Foran has sympathy for Diouf, a sentiment that sets the Irishman apart from the thousands of Celtic fans who will land on his patch for tomorrow's Scottish Cup quarter- final tie. He knows what it's like to be cast as the pantomime villain, a position often accompanied by the kind of intimidation that tempts the marked man to cave in and live up to the role.
"He came with a bad reputation," observes Foran. "And, believe me, I know what it's like to have a bad reputation. At the start of my career with Shelbourne and even with Carlisle, I had a reputation for getting into these little scrapes, so I know how it feels. It's very, very hard to get rid of it.
"I've gotten rid of it in Scotland, but still, if people talk about me in Ireland, if my name is ever mentioned, they'll say 'oh, Richie Foran, he's a bit of a wild-boy' before they say he's a good or a bad footballer. You'll probably never get rid of that, and Diouf's probably the same."
He's right, you know. Nearly a decade after Foran left these shores, the stories of his youth have attained almost a mythological status.
The Dubliner was the archetypal tough-as-nails centre-forward, who tended to make life difficult for centre-halves and referees in equal measure. Five red cards in the embryonic stages of his career set a high standard in the bad-boy stakes. Hardened defenders crossed the white line with genuine fear.
Today, he is removed from the caricature. Sure, he retains his physicality, and the Celtic defenders who cross his path tomorrow will learn that quickly enough. But, away from the game, Foran is content in the Highlands with Inverness, happy to adapt to the station of senior player in the dressing-room, while also embracing manager Terry Butcher's use of a sports psychologist and other innovations that he would have scoffed at during his lengthy education. Foran turns 31 this summer.
"I'm one of the old lads now," he laughs, "Six or seven years ago, I would have sat and not even listened to a psychologist. It was just 'give me a jersey'.... I didn't even think I needed to do a warm-up. But this helps, even if it's just for that extra five or 10pc. I'm starting to think it's right what people say, that football is 80 or 90pc what's in your head when you're on the pitch, and 10 or 20pc about what your legs do."
His belief in that theory was strengthened in recent weeks following a topsy-turvy period in Inverness. After a flying start to the campaign, which had pundits talking about Europe, Butcher's men went through the winter without a win. The malaise seeped into February and last week a clear-the-air meeting was required after Butcher and Maurice Malpas tore the dressing-room to shreds.
"I'm sure they came across as a bit scary to some of the lads, but I've been through a few of them," says Foran, who is a big fan of ex-England defender Butcher after they worked together at Motherwell.
"We weren't showing enough hunger or desire. The next day, we had a team meeting where the manager sat down and asked us where we thought it was going wrong.
"Eight or nine of us spoke up and aired our views and he's good like that, the gaffer. If there's maybe something he's done wrong, he'll listen to the lads."
Last weekend, Motherwell felt the brunt of the exercise. They were thrashed 3-0, with Inverness now sitting just outside the top half of the table. Suddenly, Celtic's visit looks to have come around at the right time.
"This game will suit us down to the ground," says Foran. "The build-up has been great. We usually have two or three reporters at our training ground on a Tuesday. This week, we had 25-30 and three or four camera crews. But the pressure is on Celtic. Their supporters are looking for them to win the treble, that's why it makes it a lot easier for us."
No doubt, there will be a few Irish accents among the visiting support, but there'll be a few wearing blue on the pitch as well. Foran is the senior member of a four-strong Irish contingent. Prolific striker, Adam Rooney, has commanded plenty of headlines this term, while Aaron Doran joined on loan from Blackburn in January. Flying winger Jonathan Hayes is injured at the moment, but is another that Foran has tipped for bigger and better things.
"They're great lads," he says. "Adam is a natural goalscorer, but he works hard as well. Jonny Hayes, I don't think anyone can stop him when he's on his game. Aaron Doran is a top player, and the fact he's willing to come here on loan shows the club is attracting the right kind of player."
It hasn't always been easy for Inverness to lure talented performers to their picturesque stadium, given they are located away from the hub of Scotland's activity. Foran jokes that there is an airport and that Glasgow and Edinburgh are only two hours away so he's hardly isolated. But it's where he has found peace, in a harmonious environment.
"The perfect place to live," he declares. "The favourite place where I've played football, both in terms of the club and outside it. I can't see myself going anywhere for a while."
A trip to Hampden Park for the final would be pleasant though, a date which is playing far more on his mind than scouring the calendar to figure out when he'll first lock horns with Diouf.
"You won't see me having any face-offs with him, that's for sure," chuckles Foran. "Those days are gone."
He's wise enough to know, however, that in parts of Ireland they will never be forgotten.
Inverness v Celtic,
Live, Sky Sports 1, tomorrow, 3.30