Inverness Caledonian Thistle forward James Keatings's class has set him apart as he rediscovers his passion for football
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Andrew Henderson explains why James Keatings is his Inverness Caledonian Thistle player of the year.
While controversy reins over the end of the football season, it might be quite easy to forget that an independent investigation into the SPFL is not the first saga Inverness Caledonian Thistle have been involved in this campaign.
Back in February, James Keatings was the subject of widespread attention after being shown a second yellow card in the Tunnock's Caramel Wafer Challenge Cup semi final against Rangers Colts for diving.
While in real time it was a questionable call, replays seemed to prove beyond doubt that it was the wrong decision, and after a protracted battle to get the suspension overturned that needed a second tribunal, Keatings was eventually cleared to play in the final.
Really, it would have been a worthy stage for a player who excelled in the Highlands last season.
Keatings joined Inverness with big shoes to fill, and a high level of expectation amongst the Caley Thistle faithful.
ICT's main playmaker Liam Polworth was leaving for Motherwell, while midfield standout Joe Chalmers would soon depart for Ross County.
With those two in the rear view mirror, the team would need a fresh injection of creativity, and with Keatings playing behind the striker it has been up to him to keep Inverness looking dangerous in front of goal.
The 28-year-old has by and large stepped up to the plate – when the team are playing well, he makes them tick, and when he is not in the squad there does not seem to be as much of a threat.
Winning three promotions from the Championship earlier in his career with Hamilton, Hearts and Hibernian meant he was always going to become a talisman in what was still a young squad, for his experience and proven quality in the division.
But what is perhaps even more impressive is that Keatings was coming to Inverness looking to rebuild his career.
Two years across Dundee United and a third spell at Hamilton saw the forward struggle with his mental health and other injuries, and really he was looking for a fresh start under John Robertson.
However, playing good football with Caley Thistle has rekindled his love for the game, and that showed as he slotted seamlessly into a team with high expectations.
Perhaps it was the 5–0 win over Greenock Morton in a league game in August that best demonstrated that, with Keatings bagging two goals and an assist from a corner kick.
Set-pieces are another area Keatings has shown his quality. In recent years Iain Vigurs, Polworth and Chalmers have all been the main men in dead ball situations, but after all of them left Keatings stepped up, and his technique has stood out above his teammates and made the difference on multiple occasions for Inverness.
It has not all been plain-sailing. He missed some time with injury in September, and at times his form has suffered when the team as a whole have off-days.
But when Keatings is on it, he looks a cut above not just his teammates but most of the league.
On the ball he has the ability and vision to complete a defence-splitting pass, and it is no coincidence that a lot of ICT's attacking play runs through him.
Keatings' contributions have been vital in reaching a Challenge Cup final and second in the Championship table.
Now, with a year of regular game time behind him to boost his confidence, he can expect to spearhead a push for promotion next season – and he might just get even better.
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