Ivan Sproule: Hibs will always be club of my heart

Ivan Sproule became an instant hero for Hibs when he scored a hat-trick at Ibrox

Ivan Sproule became an instant hero for Hibs when he scored a hat-trick at Ibrox

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The driver of Ross County’s team bus will have no difficulty in finding Easter Road on Saturday, but he shouldn’t be surprised if Ivan Sproule asks to borrow his sat-nav to help him locate the away dressing-room.

Turning left rather than right as he and his team-mates walk up the tunnel to ready themselves for a confrontation with Hibs will be the first test for the winger, returning to his old club for the first time on a day in which he admits he’ll ride a rollercoaster of emotions.

Sproule, of course, has already had to confront such a situation, doing so in style as he claimed the only goal of the game to secure a third league win of the season over Hibs for the Staggies in what was only his second game for the Dingwall outfit, his debut only days earlier having seen him score twice against St Mirren.

Strange as that might have felt, Sproule today revealed he believes facing Hibs for the first time on the ground he once called home will be an even more weird experience.

But while he’s never hidden his love for the club which plucked him from the obscurity of tiny Irish outfit Institute and set him on the path to stardom, Sproule today insisted the first blast of referee Iain Brines’ whistle will focus his mind on the task in hand, prising another precious three points for Derek Adams’ side.

And, he claimed, those self-same fans who idolised him when he pulled on a green and white shirt during two spells at the Capital club, will fully appreciate him giving 100 per cent effort against their team.

The 32-year-old said: “Yes, it’s going to be a difficult game for me, a weird one and one which, if truth be told, I never thought would happen, playing against Hibs at Easter Road. Hibs will always be my club. They gave me my chance in football, all the moments I’ve cherished as a player.

“I’ve fond memories of Hibs and the fans, the way they treated me and my family during both my spells at the club. So it will be a bit emotional, but I’m sure the Hibs supporters will recognise me as someone who always gives 100 per cent and wouldn’t expect any less from me on Saturday.

“I am a professional football player, I’m employed and paid by Ross County and I have to be looking to win the three points. The Hibs fans will accept that, they’ll realise I am giving my all for my club.”

Sproule revealed his move north has given him a “new lease of life” with his family enjoying living in the Highlands while he’s simply revelling in playing football on a regular basis, something which was denied him in the first half of last season when he made only two starts under Pat Fenlon, a situation which prompted him signing for the Staggies to great effect.

The Northern Ireland internationalist said: “I was watching a lot of football and I felt I had to make the decision to get away and play again. I didn’t want to be sitting on the bench or kicking my heels in the stand. Pat Fenlon understood, we shook hands and decided it was best for me and the club.

“I don’t hold grudges. I’ve moved on and it’s worked out well. It’s done wonders for me, it’s given me a new lease of life up here playing every week. I got six goals at the back end of last season, and I’ve been thoroughly enjoying my football.”

Inevitably, it just had to be Sproule who notched the winner when he faced Hibs for the first time at Victoria Park but, as promised, there were no hysterical celebrations, no kissing of badges although there was no doubting the pleasure he took from simply scoring.

He said: “It was just one of those things that happens in football. I’d scored twice against St Mirren in my first game for Ross County and my first home game coincidentally was Hibs. I won’t forget Ian Vigurs put me straight through and all I could see was Ben Williams and behind him the Hibs fans.

“I managed to get round Ben and stick it in the net but I’ve too much respect for Hibs and the supporters to go celebrating.

“I was, though, delighted to have scored and, I think, the Hibs fans recognised I was just doing my job. Ross County have been good to me and as a player I feel all you can do is be honest, open and do your best for your employers.

“I think people respect you if you do that. I’ve always believed in treating people the way I’d like to be treated myself and I think you make more friends than enemies by doing so.”

As such Sproule will be among old friends on Saturday, although the nature of football dictates the number of familiar faces will have dwindled somewhat given Fenlon’s extensive rebuilding of his squad over the past few months.

He said: “There will still be a few old faces and, I am sure, a bit of banter but as you get older you realise players come and go at every club.

“But Saturday is a scenario I’ve never had before. I’ve obviously played against guys I’ve played with but I’ve never gone back to a former club before. However, everyone knows football is a competitive game. I’m a fiercely competitive player and nothing is going to change that.”

Sproule’s fiery streak ensured a belated start to the season, a flare-up in a pre-season match against Forres Mechanics which saw him become embroiled with the Highland League club’s Ross MacPherson resulting in a red card and two game ban,

He said: “I felt I wasn’t getting enough protection from the referee so I took it upon myself – and I know I shouldn’t have – but it put me out of the first couple of games which was a pity because I was flying in pre-season and had scored three or four goals.”

Like Hibs, Ross County made an unremarkable start to the season, losing their first three matches against Celtic, Partick Thistle and St Johnstone but picked up their first win against St Mirren last weekend just as Fenlon’s players were enjoying their first victory away to Kilmarnock.

The Staggies, though, suffered a major setback when they were knocked out of the Scottish Communities League Cup on Tuesday night by Stranraer but, Sproule insisted, they’ll be looking to maintain the hex they appear to have over Hibs.

He said: “We looked more like the old Ross County against St Mirren but, like Hibs, we have brought in a lot of new players over the summer and as a lot of clubs have found, it just doesn’t happen right away. There’s a bedding in period, for both Hibs and ourselves,

“I’ve seen games between Hibs and Ross County from both sides, but it’s not just Hibs who have had a bit of bother with County as was shown by us finishing fifth last season.

“County appear to have the edge over Hibs going by last season’s results, but that can all change. Both sides will have enjoyed their wins last week and now both will be determined to kick on by picking up another three points on Saturday.”