Ross Draper’s Highland derby battles with midfield counterpart Stuart Kettlewell reached boiling point, but the Ross County player insists he is now feeding off his co-manager’s competitive edge.
Englishman Draper spent five years with rivals Caley Thistle where he regularly faced County stalwart Kettlewell in meetings between the two sides, with the flash point coming in January 2014 when Draper was sent off for elbowing Kettlewell in a 2-1 victory for the Staggies at Caledonian Stadium.
Draper has since crossed the Kessock Bridge to join County, where Kettlewell is now jointly in charge along with Steven Ferguson, and having laughed off their previous exchanges Draper is heartened by the 34-year-old’s dogged approach.
Draper said: “He was a tenacious little fellow. We have joked since I have come to the club and spoken to him a couple of times. With Richard Brittain here as reserve coach as well it could have been a hostile environment coming here on day one.
“I actually got sent off for Inverness in 2014 for elbowing Stuart in a derby. I say elbowing but if you look at it there’s actually nothing in it.
“That was over at Inverness and we were beaten 2-1 by Ross County, I got sent off when we were two goals down.
“That’s the kind of battles I have come across over the years, with the likes of Richie and Stuart. They had a good midfield back then with Iain Vigurs and Paul Lawson.
“In derbies, the competitiveness in midfield was really healthy. The type of player he is suits me down to a T. I can learn off him and the path he has gone down, so it can only be a good thing.”
County are aiming to keep up their 100% start to the Championship campaign when they face Morton at Cappielow today, with Ray McKinnon’s side just two points behind the Staggies.
Having previously been utilised in a more offensive position at both Inverness and County, Draper feels he is now back to where he belongs having started the campaign in a holding midfield role.
The 29-year-old added: “Since the co-managers came in at the end of last season, I think they agreed I was maybe played a little too high up under previous managers.
“It has helped that I have played against Stuart in previous years, and I think he knows my best position is slightly deeper.
“We have not really spoken about it, but coming in from day one they have talked about numbers in terms of positions. You are either an eight, or a six, which is my squad number and that suggests I’m played in a deeper role.
“I’m happy to play wherever. Iain Vigurs was the main focal point in that deeper role for Inverness last year in them doing so well and just missing out on the play-offs.
“If him coming in means I’m playing higher up, I am not bothered, but in general I think it will be slightly deeper than last year. With the squad we have got, and the quality, I have got to be able to adapt and do different roles to get myself in the team-sheet.”