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Inverness happy to stay below the radar but signals are right for Meekings

INVERNESS is only 80 miles north west of Aberdeen, yet for some reason the two football teams don't currently appear to be on the same radar.

Josh Meekings feels his side are perennially labelled as the underdogs, but the 21-year-old isn't complainingPhotograph:  SNS
Josh Meekings feels his side are perennially labelled as the underdogs, but the 21-year-old isn't complainingPhotograph: SNS

Amid the rather unseemly rush to award the Pittodrie side a domestic cup double, not everyone seems to remember that at this moment Inverness Caledonian Thistle have an equal chance of ending the season with a couple of new additions to their trophy cabinet. John Hughes leads his team into his first Highland derby in Dingwall this midweek safe in the knowledge he already has a home Scottish Cup quarter-final against Dundee United and the first major final in the club's history to look forward to in the League Cup.

Josh Meekings, the club's promising 21-year-old central defender, acknowledges the Highlanders don't always get the billing they deserve. But you also get the feeling that, frankly, he wouldn't have it any other way.

"We have always been the underdogs maybe," Meekings told the Sunday Herald. "But we don't mind that at all. Maybe one day we will start getting more publicity and stuff, but for now we are happy with what we are doing. If we are not favourites, it puts pressure on other teams. It all piles up into one big game, us against Aberdeen, which everyone is expecting them to win. It is the first cup final for our club, so we can just go out there and do our best. But if we play to the best of our ability we can win."

The last few days have seen an almighty wrangle about ticket allocation for the final, but no-one will be more thankful about being able to play their part at Parkhead on March 16 than Meekings himself. You may recall the defender trudging away disconsolately up the Easter Road tunnel, convinced his dismissal in the closing stages of the League Cup semi-final with Hearts - which left them chasing an equaliser in the dying minutes with nine men - was the final nail in his side's hopes.

He and Gary Warren, who had been dismissed earlier, spent the rest of the day in the dressing room, trying to decipher the roars from outside. Somehow Nick Ross grabbed a shock equaliser, the nine men held on throughout extra-time, and Caley won on penalties. All Meekings had to worry about now was trying to get his red card - for a cynical challenge which was only borderline reckless or dangerous - downgraded to a yellow to let him play.

"What they did was incredible on the day," Meekings said. "I went into the dressing room thinking that was game over, then I hear a cheer and think 'hang on the boys are still at it'. Nick Ross scores, it gets us back in the game, then you are thinking 'come on lads, hold on' while all the time thinking if we do get through there is a more than decent chance I will be missing the final. The main thing was that we won."

Meekings served his apprenticeship as a captain of Ipswich's Under-18 side and while the cachet of working with Terry Butcher, a favourite son of East Anglia, helped take him north in the first place, he now finds himself learning from another former centre-half in the form of Hughes. The combustible former Falkirk and Hibs manager, not to mention his languid assistant Russell Latapy, should add an extra dimension to a rearranged Highland match-up which is incendiary enough at the best of times.

Meekings said: "This is one you look forward to for the whole season. My favourite Highland derby memory was when Richie Foran scored in injury-time at Dingwall last season in the cup to get a replay."

Meekings has another year remaining on his contract at the Caledonian Stadium and, under the radar or not, has no intentions of going anywhere soon. "I am still young and learning as much as I can," he said. "It is all about getting as many games as I can under my belt."

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