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Adam Rooney recalls how Caley Thistle career took off with treble against Morton

Adam Rooney's scoring exploits for Caley Thistle led the club back to the top-flight within one season of the drop. Images: SNS Group
Adam Rooney's scoring exploits for Caley Thistle led the club back to the top-flight within one season of the drop. Images: SNS Group

Adam Rooney reckons his move to Caley Thistle “was the making of him” after fearing his Highland flit was destined for failure.

The former Inverness and Aberdeen striker, now 34, recently joined part-time Brackley Town, who are riding high in National League North in the sixth tier of English football.

The Irishman has already scored twice for his new club, taking his goal rate to 242 in around 600 appearances, ranging from Stoke City, Inverness, Birmingham City, Swindon, Aberdeen and in recent years Solihull Moors and, Stratford Town.

An encouraging start to footballing life at Stoke didn’t work out as planned when Tony Pulis came in. Loan stints at Yeovil, Chesterfield and Bury were only seen by Rooney as a path towards their first-team.

Craig Brewster signed Adam Rooney for Caley Thistle.

No chance of breakthrough at Stoke

However, he was quickly told there would be no place for him and Caley Jags boss Craig Brewster made a move, aiming to land him for a season.

Rooney said: “I was at a stage, around the age of 20, when I wanted to get out there and play proper senior football.

“I spoke to Tony Pullis about me pushing on in the first-team, but they had signed Dave Kitson for around £6 million and the manager told me I wouldn’t get the chance to play.

“I was due to fly to Austria with them for pre-season, but he told me Inverness had phoned and wanted me on a season-long loan.

“He said they’d agreed with Inverness I’d go with Inverness on their pre-season trip to Denmark. I said ‘no’, because I wanted to push for the first-team at Stoke.

Jonny Hayes, left, and Adam Rooney were a great pairing at Aberdeen and Caley Thistle.

“At that stage, I wasn’t even sure where Inverness was. I had no intention of going to Scotland, but he said I wasn’t going to play at Stoke.

“I then decided to go to Denmark for the week. I said ‘If I enjoy it, I’ll consider it’.

“All the Inverness lads flew out ahead and I flew up to meet Craig Brewster at Edinburgh, so I then flew over with my possible future gaffer.

“I met the lads and they were a great bunch. I enjoyed it and decided to agree to the loan move.

“Stoke wanted compensation, so the clubs then agreed a move for a small fee, maybe around £50,000. I signed on a three-year contact.

“I viewed the move as a chance to go and make a name for myself in Scotland, in the SPL, playing against Rangers and Celtic.”

Relegation in first season with ICT

The high hopes of hitting the net and winning matches in the Premiership in 2008/09 were didn’t work out and the club struggled.

Brewster was sacked midway through the season and in came Terry Butcher and Maurice Malpas.

Rooney was sorry at how it ended for Brewster, who he remains in contact with to this day.

He said: “The first season was disappointing, with the way it ended. I came up with great intentions that I’d join and score lots of goals and do very well, but initially that wasn’t the case. I was the lone striker a lot of the time.

“We were not getting a whole lot of chances and my game is based on getting in the box and getting on the end of things. I wasn’t prolific and I finished as (the club’s) top scorer with six or seven goals. That showed why we struggled so much – it was a difficult first year.

“I was disappointed with how it ended for Brew and I still speak to him now, he’s a great guy. Everyone always speaks very highly of him.

“The lads were disappointed because it wasn’t necessarily his fault. But, as the manager, that’s what happens.”

In from the cold and up and running

The change of manager didn’t lead to a quick change of fortunes for the determined forward.

He recalls how a home match against Morton was the moment where his early career gained a shot in the arm.

He added: “Terry and Mo came in and, at first, I didn’t get much game-time. I played as a lone striker and then I got dropped. I don’t think Terry was too keen on me.

“It was all up in the air that summer and I thought I would have to move on because I wasn’t getting many games.

Adam Rooney reaches the ball ahead of Dundee United’s Morgaro Gomis in 2011.

“The next season, it all changed. In September or October, we played Morton at home and I started and scored a hat-trick. From that point, I think I started every game.

“I had a chat with Terry in the summer when we were relegated and he said he needed me. He told me I’d get the goals to get us back up. I didn’t have any real faith that would happen.

“Away from football, I’d go to a personal trainer called Roddy MacLaughlin to keep myself fit.

“I’d be there twice a week and he’d have me pulling cars in the car park. I was doing everything I could to be fitter, and physically stronger and ready to take my chance.

“Thankfully, Terry threw me in for that Morton game and that was the turning point.”

Dundee defeated in dramatic style

Inverness won the Championship in sensational style in 2009/10, overhauling a massive deficit, turning it into a whopping title success and swift return to the top-flight.

They went 21 successive games without defeat, with Rooney scoring 27 goals in all competitions.

Rooney has fond memories of that group making people sit up and notice their abilities.

He added: “Dundee were the favourites for the league, but we became one of the very few clubs to go down and straight back up.

Terry Butcher, left, and Maurice Malpas guided  ICT to Championship glory in 2009/10.

“We were 15 points behind Dundee in January, but we went on to win the league by 12 points, which shows the run we went on – it was brilliant.

“That squad had some really good players, such as Jonny Hayes and Richie Foran. As three Irish lads, we got on very well on and off the pitch.

“We had a really good understanding between one another and overall, it was a strong squad. Having such a good dressing room helped to really kick on.

“Because we were so far behind Dundee, a lot of people wrote us off. Dundee had the league won.”

Championship win – then back to SPL

Returning to the top-flight offered Rooney to chance to finally showcase his lethal nature and he scored 21 times in 42 appearances.

He said: “After having the good year under my belt in the Championship, when I scored 27 goals, my confidence was high.

“It was my first proper season of playing week in, week out. I got plenty of minutes and gained a lot of experience.

“I’d learned from Terry and Maurice, I knew what was expected of me.

“I arrived back in the SPL more mature and a better player for the experience.

“The team was a lot stronger due to the year we had in the Championship. We’d formed a good group and everyone understood their roles.

“I think we finished the season in seventh, but with more points than the teams which finished fifth and sixth (Kilmarnock and Motherwell).

“Personally, it was a brilliant year and I really enjoyed it.”

Happy memories made up north

Birmingham City, who had just been relegated from the Premier League, won the race against Malky Mackay’s Cardiff City to secure Rooney’s services in 2011.

The striker explained Butcher had pulled out the stops to retain his services, but admitted the pull to join the big-city Blues was too strong.

Chris Hughton managed Adam Rooney at Birmingham.

He said: “I was torn about leaving the club. I had really settled in Inverness and really enjoyed the area. My wife and I had lots of friends, even outside of football, in the area and we really enjoyed living there.

“Moving to Inverness was the making of me because it offered me the chance to play every week and get that experience and build up confidence by playing at a good level.

“But I had the chance to have a crack in the English Championship and I just couldn’t turn it down.

“Terry tried really hard to keep me and it was a hard decision, but as a footballer you always want to test yourself at as high a level as possible. It was time for me to do that.”