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Growing up at last in the hills of the Highlands

IT is noon on a sunny Monday in Inverness and a receptionist is being serenaded by a young, slim man with a Dublin accent. It is mid-afternoon in Strathpeffer, the most douce of spa towns, and the singer clears his throat.

Philosopher, hot-head, captain, commander: Richie Foran is Mr Inverness. Picture: SNS
Philosopher, hot-head, captain, commander: Richie Foran is Mr Inverness. Picture: SNS

"I have had my madness. I have had my wild days, my wild cities. I have had it all. I have done it all," he says.

A little more than 50 hours later, he lunges into a two-footed tackle on an opponent that could, maybe should, have been punished by a red card thus incurring a suspension that would see him miss the League Cup final tomorrow.

This is Richie Foran, 33, captain and commander of Inverness Caledonian Thistle. This is the singer who presents a birthday cake and song to the club receptionist, this is the philosopher who talks of hard times and soft moments, this is the player who risks a cup final appearance to win the ball in a midfield challenge.

This is a personality who has become closely linked with the club, almost a Mr Inverness, after a career that has seen him travel from Irish football through Carlisle United, Oxford United, Motherwell, Southend United and Darlington.

There has always been a feeling that Foran, who has represented his country at under-21 level, has never fully paid tribute to his talent, that the aggression needed in the modern midfielder has strayed into gratuitous violence, even silliness.

Foran, the Irish young player of the year at the start of the millennium, has thus been condemned to play in the lower leagues in England and damned by charges of under-achievement.

Yet now he leads Inverness on the club's biggest day. "I wouldn't have seen myself as a captain as a youngster. I always like to think I was on a leader on the park but off the park at times I did not show I was captain material," he says.

"Quite a few of my ex-managers and team-mates then would not have thought I was captain material so I have changed lot. I have changed a lot under the guidance of Terry Butcher and Maurice Malpas," he says of the previous managerial team at Inverness. "They made me into a better player, I think, and a better person. Yeah, I am a lot more sensible and mature these days.

"It comes with age. The main thing is I tell people is that if you make mistakes you have to learn from them. You can't keep making them and I stopped making those mistakes and I learned from that."

This was all said, of course, before he encountered Sam Stanton at Tulloch Caledonian Stadium and fouled the Hibernian midfielder with a recklessness that was matched by a compassion from match referee Stephen Finnie. However, it is clear that Foran has matured, perhaps even mellowed, and he is grateful for Inverness, for Butcher and for Malpas for their part in that process. Foran, the philosopher, reflects on the lessons of that transformation.

"I think it shows that if you give people who are a bit raw, people who will do stupid things at times, if you stick by them, see a bit of good in them, give them a bit of help, put an arm around their shoulder, and let them know when they are out of order as well, stick in there with them, they can come out good and hopefully be an example," he said.

The rocky, rising road now looks over the sunny plains of a first cup final for the club so have the rough experiences helped Foran appreciate the view? "Yes, definitely. I am 33, coming up 34, so it is quite possible that this could be my last cup final. We have a young team with a lot of them in their early 20s so I expect them to go on to a few cup finals but myself I will probably be lucky to get to another one so, yeah, that is why I am really going to enjoy it."

Football, of course, was not always a joy for Foran. "It used to be really life and death. My family could not ring me for a good two days after a defeat. I would be in a horrible mood. It would really affect me. It still affects but it does not affect me as long any more," he says.

He revels in the perception that he is Mr Inverness. "I feel privileged if I am held in that high regard. Whoever I play for I give them 100%. I go into the club in the morning - whether it's training or talking to the PR girls, trying to sort out people going to schools, trying to sort out appearances around the community - I put 100% input, that is all I know."

The off switch is activated when he returns home to his partner and their son, two-year-old Harris.

Foran reflects on his childhood: "I was brought up in the inner city of Dublin, the rough, tough inner city. I think that helped me become more street wise. It toughens you up and that helps on the park as well. You do not mind going into a battle because you have been in enough of them growing up."

Harris, a mascot for the game, will accompany his father on to the field tomorrow. It will be an emotional, perhaps defining moment for Foran, the boy who learned how to fight on the streets of Dublin and how to live in the hills of Inverness.

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