“IT'S frustrating when you’re not getting results but it’s even more frustrating being injured.”
Such a quote underpins the last nine months for Josh Meekings.
The former Caley Thistle defender could not kick a ball in anger from January onwards, as his club slid towards relegation.
Priorities soon shifted, as he now had the small matter of his next job to sort out. For a player sat on the sidelines, that task was frought with more challenges than possibilites.
But, after taking up the offer of training with Dundee, alongside former team-mates Danny Williams and James Vincent, Meekings found a new home for himself. A persistent knee injury could now be rehabbed and Meekings could start a new chapter of his career while closing the last.
The physio at Dundee, Gerry Docherty, has been a great ally in Meekings’ comeback and he gives him great credit for facilitating his return to a football pitch.
After nine months on the sidelines, Meekings was pitched in by Dark Blues boss Neil McCann for a trip to Celtic Park in mid-October. A bit like having foot surgery and then trying to run a marathon.
But for the 25-year-old, it was a day he embraced rather than feared. Pain-free, injury-free and hopefully stress-free, Meekings is seeking to start something special again at Dens Park.
“It’s nice to be back on the pitch. I’ve played five games and if you said three months ago I’d do that, I’d have bitten your hand off. Results haven’t been great but it’s nice personally to be out there,” he said.
“Under John Hughes I had a spell where it blew up and I had to play through it and when Richie Foran was in charge, it wasn’t right. It’s nice to be able to go out there with a bit of freedom, knowing everything is sorted and there shouldn’t be any underlying concerns.
“I saw a specialist over the summer and did my rehab work, then Neil spoke to me and said the chance was there. There wasn’t 100 per cent going to be a contract at the end of it but if it went well, they’d be offering me something. If not, then they’ve helped me out.
“I believed I should be in the Premiership but I understood the situation with my knee and the concerns. Ultimately, that was going to be an issue with picking up another club or being kept on (at Inverness). I wanted to stay in the Premiership as I want to play at the highest level I can.
“Thankfully Neil McCann gave me this opportunity and I’ve been able to take it. Hopefully it’s the start of something again. I wanted to make sure I was 100 per cent right, regardless of who wanted to take me on.
“A week after I played in an under-20s game, Neil said he was thinking of putting me in and wanted to give me a bit of time to get my head round it. Celtic is a difficult place to go to get points but it’s still a great game to be involved in.”
That Celtic game was his first competitive game since the Highland derby at the end of December last year. For a League Cup finalist and Scottish Cup winner, sitting on the sidelines was excruciating.
In full flow, Meekings was the most naturally-gifted defender at the club. Athletic, quick over the ground and able to bring the ball out from the back, Inverness truly had a gem on their hands when a fully-fit Meekings was at their disposal.
The problem, for both parties, was towards the end that became a rarer prospect. The last six months of his tenure in the Highlands was arguably the most difficult of his career; helpless as Caley Thistle plummeted out of the top flight, while trying intensely to channel outside frustrations into rehabbing his knee injury.
Meekings did not play after a January bounce game against Ross County. Putting himself through the pain barrier with his knee was not an option this time. Recovery had to be done properly.
In the backdrop were concerns about his future, given he was out of contract, and worries that his injury status might put off prospective employers. Throw into the mix a court case, which Meekings admits was a situation blown out of proportion, challenges seemed to be readily presenting themselves.
“I’d not been able to help the club in the last six months, to get out of the situation they were in. I didn’t kick a ball after January and that was frustrating,” he said. “You’re sitting in the stands wanting the boys to do well but not being able to do anything about it. That was the biggest regret, but something I couldn’t do anything about.
“It was a very strange last year and I used everything that went on to focus on my rehab. There were ups and downs and I had to channel that into something productive. I tried to use it, rather than let it get me down.
“The court case got handled and I want to brush it under the carpet. It was a petty thing and something that got made bigger than it ought to have been in the end. I’ve dealt with it now and it’s in the past.”
The manner of his departure is something which he looks back on with a hint of sadness. While not wishing to dwell on the ‘doom and gloom’ of the summer, Meekings wished aspects of it were handled better.
“I didn’t know what was going on. Richie spoke to me about it and said they wouldn’t be able to offer me a contract but then he got sacked. They didn’t try to offer me anything new and that initial offer (which was turned down) wasn’t there after relegation. They didn’t offer me a second contract – it might have changed things but that’s hindsight.
“They put out a statement announcing players had been released and I hadn’t spoken to anyone. Richie said to keep in contact about my knee and if any other clubs had spoken to me. I felt it could have been dealt with a bit better; I could have had a phone call from someone.
“I had six years there and knew a lot of people at the club. It wasn’t how I wanted it to pan out. Brian Rice and Scott Kellacher took me in and said they would speak to board the board and see what they were saying regarding contracts. Richie said the club couldn’t do what it did before but they didn’t do anything to try make me stay at the club. It’s ended up working out well as I’ve got a Premiership club.”
Meekings came in for some criticism from elements of the Caley Thistle support after leaving the club, which to his credit he has not taken to heart.
He took the majority of stick in his stride, particularly when he retweeted a tweet from the Conservative Party and was rounded on by a select few fans.
“It’s obviously serious what is going on (in society) but I try not to get involved too much. You get stick and you give it back – there’s plenty of it flying about. A lot of players keep their cards close to their chest, as you can open yourself up to criticism. But I quite enjoy it. Everyone is entitled to their opinion.
“It’s part and parcel of the game; people don’t understand what goes on and only see what’s on the outside. I was a fan myself when I was younger and you don’t understand properly until you’re involved in it. Fans want people to stay at their club and you have to take things that might cross the line with a pinch of salt. I don’t think anyone meant the comments (to be hurtful).
One final message to the @ICTFC fans. I began my professional career with the club, I'm grateful for that. I made some great friends.. 1/2— Josh Meekings (@JoshMeekings24) August 18, 2017
and had some greats experiences along the way, playing in europe, and lifting the Scottish cup! Thank you all, and all the best! 2/2— Josh Meekings (@JoshMeekings24) August 18, 2017
“I always give everything and will continue to do that – it’s been drilled in to me. I hope no fan thought I didn’t make an effort or didn’t try. There was spirit and desire in that dressing room and that’s a big thing for me.”
All of that said, he does not come away with his memories of Inverness tarnished. He arrived a boy and left a man, tasting success for the first time and playing European football. His girlfriend, Grace, is from the city and he retains close ties to the Highland capital.
“I hope they get back up this season, if possible, as I had a great time there. It sounds all doom and gloom but I had a great six years there. I won the Scottish Cup, got to the League Cup final and played in Europe. I never would have dreamed of that, going up there as an 18-year-old boy with no senior experience.
“Grace’s family are from Inverness, so I still go up there and text a few of the boys to see what they’re doing. Brad Mckay has been a great friend of mine, even though he only came last year. We get on really well and I speak to him all the time. If he comes down home, he stops off at mine on the way.
“We did have a very close dressing room. You come across a lot of people in football and fall out of touch with most. But there’s a lot of boys in that dressing room I would consider friends, not just colleagues.”
So what does the future hold? Given his last 18 months, Meekings, a boyhood Ipswich Town fan, is reluctant to look too far ahead. He is just five games into a new chapter of his career and given the tribulations of 2017, the old “one game at a time” cliché will be nailed to his locker.
“I’ve always said I’d like to play in England but we’ll see how it pans out. It would be nice to get a bit closer to home but I’m taking it game by game. It’d be nice to be closer to family, so they can come watch, but it’s not something I’m adamant I want to do. I’d like to give family the opportunity to watch me a bit more.
“I’ve lived away from home for six years. When you’ve got family coming up to watch you play it’s a bit special, as ulimtately they’ve helped you get there.”