Popular former striker James Keatings heads back to Hibs today hoping he’s banished “a year from hell”.
The 26-year-old, who left Easter Road in summer 2017 to sign for Dundee United in search of a regular starting berth, is viewing his return to Hamilton Accies five weeks ago as a “fresh start” after a nightmare period on and off the pitch.
Keatings plunged into a depression last year amid difficulties in his personal life before a serious injury early last season inadvertently paved the way for him to seek the help he needed.
“It was a year from hell,” Keatings told the Evening News ahead of Accies’ trip to Easter Road. “It was one thing after another. I wasn’t getting the breaks with anything really. Having to get the surgery was a blessing in disguise because it allowed me to get away from everything for a while and concentrate on myself and getting the help I needed at that stage. I managed to do that and after a few months of getting that help, it brought me on leaps and bounds. The people round about me and also the professional help I got helped me massively and gave me a completely different outlook to things compared to what I had before. Towards the end of last season I was back enjoying myself. Mentally wise, it’s night and day comparing now to where I where I was.”
Even though he was well on his way to recovering mentally, Keatings knew he had to get away from Dundee United in the summer. Hamilton, where he had previously spent two seasons, offered him a route out of Tannadice.
“When I went in for pre-season I was firmly set on leaving United,” he explained. “The travelling wasn’t helping me in terms of the moods I was getting into and things like that. I felt I’d be better away from the club in a personal sense. But also for my career, I wanted to get back playing and get as fit as I could be and I didn’t think I could do that with the type of training I was doing at United. The manager, Csaba Laszlo, had his own ways of doing things - some boys it suited, other boys it didn’t. I personally felt I needed more intensive, sharper stuff.
“I went in to United at pre-season and made it clear to the manager I wanted to leave and I knew there was interest from Hamilton, which is where I wanted to go. Since I’ve got here it’s been brilliant. The manager and the boys have been really good with me. I’m on a programme to get fit after I missed pre-season.”
The move to Hamilton finally affords him a sustained crack at the Premiership after he won promotion with Hamilton, Hearts and then Hibs and immediately opted to move back to the Championship on each occasion. “Everybody joked I was scared of the Premiership because every time we went up, I dropped back down but I always said I’d do it one day,” he said. “I’ve obviously had the chance to play in the Premiership before now but I’ve just taken a different path. I felt this was the best move for my career because I enjoyed being at Hamilton before and it’s a place I felt I could settle and enjoy my football again.”
Keatings, who has made two sub appearances so far, hopes to play a significant part today when he returns to Hibs, the club he helped win the Scottish Cup in 2016. “I’m looking forward to going back to Easter Road,” he said. “I had two great years there and the club was great to me. I’ve been back a few times with my daughter because Hibs are her favourite team. She likes going back through there, and I also keep in contact with a few of the boys.”