James Keatings has had a torturous time since leaving Hibs a little over two years ago, but the striker is hopeful that he is now well on his way to getting back on track with Inverness Caledonian Thistle.
A serious hip problem, which placed his career in jeopardy, sidelined the 27-year-old for the second half of the 2017/18 campaign and effectively ended his unfulfilling stint at Dundee United. A return to Hamilton Accies last summer brought more woe for Keatings as a string of niggling injuries restricted him to just eight starts last season. The frustration of constantly battling fitness problems, exacerbated by the very real threat that his career could be brought to a premature end, also took a toll on his mental health.
Now injury-free and settled in Inverness, where he has started all eight matches under John Robertson so far this season, Keatings is sensing an upturn in fortune. Two goals in his most recent outing, a 5-0 win over Morton just before the international break, brought further reassurance that things are now heading in the right direction for the former Hearts and Hibs player. “This is the best feeling I’ve had since I left Hibs,” Keatings told the Evening News. “I’ve still got a bit to go to get to the level I was at with Hearts and Hibs but I’m not putting pressure on myself. I knew I wasn’t suddenly going to step on the pitch up here and be the same player I was at Hibs. I’m taking it step by step but I’m feeling really good.
“It’s been brilliant a move for me so far. Moving away from home for the first time was quite difficult but I’ve settled well and I’m enjoying my football at the moment. My target at the start of the season was just to get as fit and strong as possible and get myself on the pitch for as long as I can and steer clear of injuries. My pre-season’s been brilliant. I’ve started every game so far which is massive.”
Keatings is revelling I’m working under Robertson, whom he first crossed paths with at Hearts in 2014/15. “It’s a big thing to have a manager who knows you personally, knows what you can do and believes in you,” said Keatings. “He’s been a great help and he’s given me the confidence to go out and show what I can do.”
Keatings’ current sense of contentment is in stark contrast to the emotions he has gone through in the past two gruelling years. “Growing up, all I knew was playing football,” he said. “I’ve been full-time since I was 15. Everything I’ve done has been football-orientated every day so having an injury is so frustrating. You want to be out there on the pitch. On Friday night, you want to have that buzz before you go to bed and I think that’s where I struggled most, on a Friday, knowing I wasn’t going to be involved on the Saturday. That had a big effect on how low I was feeling at that stage.
“When my injury flared up at Dundee United, I went to see a surgeon in London and he said there wasn’t a great chance I’d play again. I had the same hip problem as Angus Beith and Andy Murray and it wasn’t looking great for me. I had the pressure of knowing it was 50/50 whether I would play again after the surgery and then knowing I’d have a long rehab ahead of me without even knowing if I could play again. Luckily, I managed to get myself back but then when I went to Hamilton and still had all those niggles last season, it started to feel as if that was the way my career was going to go. It was horrendous. But I’ve worked hard, come up here and got myself fit and strong and feeling good. I’m injury-free and hopefully it stays that way.”