Monday 22 January 2018

'It's got to hurt you but it can't control your life'

Richie Foran is trying to control his emotions as he adjusts to challenges of management

Inverness manager Richie Foran watches the action during a Scottish Premier League match against Rangers. Photo: Ian MacNicol/Getty Images
Inverness manager Richie Foran watches the action during a Scottish Premier League match against Rangers. Photo: Ian MacNicol/Getty Images
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

Richie Foran smiles at the question. The Inverness Caledonian Thistle boss has just been asked how Foran the manager would have dealt with his younger self.

"Now that's an interesting one," responds the Dubliner with a knowing laugh. He accepts there are people back home who will never quite get their head around his current position of responsibility.

They will always associate his name with the fiery youngster known for scraps on and off the park. A lawbreaker that tested the patience of his strongest supporters at Shelbourne and Carlisle by consistently flirting with going off the rails. Red mist was the default.

Dermot Keely said last year that of all the players he worked with, he reckoned that Foran was the least likely to go into management. That went beyond the memories of five red cards in one season. "There is nothing that any player can do that Richie has not done himself," he said.

But that is the 36-year-old's profession now, and he is learning about real problems as opposed to hypothetical ones in a scrap at the bottom of the SPL. Foran is seven months into his first campaign in the dugout and coming to terms with the pressures. This has been a challenging week, although he wasn't wearing the strain on a visit to Caledonian Stadium on Thursday.

The narrow corridors hummed with activity, yet there was no doubt about who was the boss. Foran has a word for everyone he meets.

"Look, here comes another Dub," he says, pointing to Jake Mulraney (20) and a gang of fresh-faced players who return greetings and move along quickly. Foran strolls into the modest kitchen area, rustles up a cup of tea and invites the Irish Independent into a cluttered office, evicting some staff members that were sitting around the desk.

Information

Sky Sports News is on the TV and a tactics board lays out some information about opponents. This is a communal gathering place rather than Foran's personal space; he does have a swivel chair behind the desk where he sits with his feet up.

He is relaxed and in good humour, shorn of the mildly terrifying Viking-style beard that was dispatched earlier this month, the picture of the contented soul that moved to the Scottish Highlands eight years ago and found the happiness that had been missing.

Yet he has just emerged from a press conference with local hacks which had centred on his fury after Tuesday's humbling 3-0 defeat at Hamilton.

Foran made headlines by going public with his frustration, declaring: "Some of our players haven't got the bottle. A few of the boys started hiding. I can see who doesn't want to take the ball. I'm not stupid.

"I can tell by body language. I can see players taking a step to the left so they don't need to take the ball to the right."

For the first time, the rookie manager conceded his team were fighting the drop. Previously, he insisted a top-half finish was possible given that the basement side are only seven points off sixth spot.

In some quarters, the outburst was interpreted as the stress getting to him. And his regular inquisitors used the gathering ahead of this afternoon's crunch encounter with third-from-bottom Dundee to ask questions about Foran's own future.

Unbeknownst to them, he had just come from a lunch with chairman Kenny Cameron which had affirmed the board's support.

It was cajoling from Cameron and Co that persuaded the club captain to do his badges a couple of years back. The chance to put them into action came last summer and he admits he's fallen short of expectations. Tuesday's outburst was his way of telling the players that they are, too.

"You are emotional after games," he says. "But I meant it on Tuesday. I told them to their faces in the dressing room as well. And I'm looking for a reaction. If a manager was publicly in the press questioning my guts, my bottle. I'd go out and say, 'Feck you, I'll show you in the next game'.

"I've protected them for months and months and rightly so because they are great lads, great trainers. But I need men and leaders. We'll find out on Saturday who they are."

Wednesday was a grim day. Prior to this season, he has mainly associated Inverness with feelings of tranquillity.

Foran grew up in Dublin's inner city, toughened by bruising GAA games with St Joseph's O'Connell's Boys, but says he was always a 'country bumpkin' at heart. His mother hails from Clonakilty and his parents have moved to Cavan.

The switch to Scotland's north-east coast was therapeutic, and he settled down, marrying a local girl, Stephanie, and becoming a father to Harris (five) and Vegas (10 months). As a skipper, he demanded high standards, but knew when to switch off. Fishing was the release.

"I've got a boat," he says. "There's nothing better than going to the middle of the ocean and knocking off the engine. Just peace. My plan when I finished playing was to get out, buy myself trawler and catch fish for a living."

He hasn't been out on the Moray Firth or Loch Ness since assuming control from John Hughes.

The job is all-consuming although he has taken up golf - 'I can whack it alright but my technique isn't as good as I would like; I still have the hurling grip' - and views it as an activity where he can gather his thoughts.

"Your mind is constantly working every minute," he says. "You drive from A to B and if you're on your own you're thinking about how to improve. I'm constantly writing down notes. And you fight your way to sleep at night, it happens."

It demands introspection. Foran has his own ideas about management. Despite his criticism on Tuesday, he lauds his players' character.

"I'm very strict on who we let in that dressing room," he asserts. "I'd rather a player with lesser ability and great character than a player with lots of ability and poor character."

On the training ground, he is hands-off, preferring to stand back, observe individuals and let the coaches do the coaching. But he is always taking a look at himself too.

"I haven't been doing my job right - as simple as that. Why do I say that? Because we're bottom of the table. I pick the team, the shape, the tactics. In life, in society, we all like to blame someone else.

"Your wife could make a cup of tea and then you spill it and blame her for putting too much tea in the cup. That's society.

"Strikers blame midfielders for bad service. Midfielders blame defenders for conceding goals. I'm not like that; I have to take responsibility. I blame myself for where we are.

"These players have proven over the years they're good enough, so maybe I'm doing something wrong. I don't say that for the plaudits, to show I'm brave or something. That's me being honest and straight. I'm not doing my job properly at the moment, but I will turn the corner."

The wait since October for a league win is chipping away at him. Harris is old enough to know the score and is waiting by the door for the result when his daddy comes home, disappointed by recent updates.

But Foran is determined to make it work, adamant that he wants to be the longest-serving manager in the club's history. Accepting the post risked jeopardising a strong relationship because there's nowhere else to go at Caley if it doesn't work out.

"Maybe the best advice I ever got was from Terry Butcher, saying to go and do things you're not comfortable with and that's the way to build your self esteem," he counters.

"Come out of your comfort zone. I had a good think about the job when I was offered it. Was I the right person? I was, and I still am."

He was always a big personality, a chirpy presence, and is conscious of the need to maintain that demeanour on a daily basis regardless of how things are going.

"I've had managers that got really, really high and really, really low," he explains. "They lose a couple of games and walk right by you in the corridor. Win and they're jumping around the dressing room. For me, it's not the way to be.

Shampoo

"There's no charlies here. I've been at clubs where lads are in the showers 20 minutes after getting battered talking about the shampoo they use. But these lads are hurting as much as I am. So if I'm down and angry, I do try to keep it to myself at times because it's all about balance."

Straight after today's fixture, he fly home to the reception of his sister's wedding in Dublin. He was never going to use work as an excuse. Whatever happens, he will make sure he's able to enjoy it.

"There's always someone worse off in the world than you," he says.

"You pick up the paper and read about kids with terminal illnesses and car crashes and all sorts of other things. I'm one of the lucky ones. Once you have your health, it's huge.

"It's the balance, that's what you need in football.

"You've got to care, you've got to have passion and it's got to hurt you but it can't control your life. I can't let that happen."

Irish Independent

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