Four years without a trophy would not be considered an interminable drought for most players — but Raith Rovers striker James Keatings has grown accustomed to the smell of Brasso.
The 29-year-old’s decision to depart his boyhood club, Celtic, and pursue first-team football prompted an avalanche of early success in his career.
He claimed a Championship playoff winner’s medal in 2014, helped Hearts win the second tier with a record points total in 2015 and was then part of the Hibernian team which ended the club’s 114-year wait for the Scottish Cup in 2016.
Keatings subsequently found the net eight times on the Hibees’ way to restoring their Premiership status in 2017.
That insatiable appetite for success has gone unsated in subsequent stints with Accies and Inverness and Keatings intends to set high standards in Kirkcaldy in a bid to rectify that.
“I enjoyed four years in a row of winning something and, personally, that leaves something inside you; a drive,” said the clinical front-man. “When you go a year or two without silverware, you feel it missing.
“If I don’t win something, I see it as a fail — and I’m coming here with that mentality. That fire is still burning in my belly and I want my next trophy.”
— SPFL (@spfl) August 23, 2020
Keating’s pedigree is supplemented by the arrival of Christophe Berra — a Scottish Cup finalist in the past two seasons and Championship winner last term — and existing stars like Jamie MacDonald, who won the Scottish Cup with Hearts.
As Rovers seek to mount a genuine charge for promotion, there is little doubt they have a host of players with the right mentality.
“Some boys here perhaps haven’t won a trophy and, when you look back, they are the best days in your career,” continued Keatings. “So I’ll be telling the boys to aim for that — set the targets high.
“That starts in training, with everyone fighting to be the best in every session, and in the dressing room before games, having a strong mentality and believing you can win every game.”
Frozen out in the Highlands
Keatings made his first appearance in two months as Rovers defeated Stranraer 4-1 on Saturday, leading the line with aplomb as Aidan Connolly, Lewis Vaughan, Brad Spencer and Kieran Mitchell rippled the net.
It was a cathartic return to the pitch having been starved of football at Inverness towards the tail-end of last season. The news of his impending move to Raith, which broke in March, did not go down well in the Highlands, it seems.
“When I signed for Raith Rovers and the news of that came out, there was no interest from Inverness to play me,” continued Keatings, whose last outing came against Buckie Thistle on March 23.
“I was just training every day, working hard, but knowing that I wouldn’t be involved. I had no injuries but I was never going to get picked.
“I was still contracted to Inverness and, if they had put me on the pitch, I would have given absolutely everything.
“But my decision to sign here wasn’t taken well by them, which is just part-and-parcel of the game.
“I knew that I wanted to come to Raith. I wanted to get it sorted and look forward to it. I also knew that there would be a backlash — and that did happen — but that’s in the past now and I’m looking forward to the season ahead.”
‘We couldn’t get close to them’
That enthusiasm is only heightened by the style of play which Rovers will seek to implement, and Keatings’ importance within that.
He still vividly recalls being blown away by Raith’s slick, attacking, inventive football during a 3-3 draw with Inverness in the Betfred Cup last term, despite Keatings actually finding the net for the Caley Jags.
“There haven’t been many times I’ve come off a pitch at half-time and thought to myself: ‘We can’t get near them,’” continued Keatings. “The cup game here at the start of last season was an eye-opener.
“I remember walking down the tunnel and all the boys were just talking about how we couldn’t get close to them.
“Now, to actually be at the club; see how the manager works; understand the detail and the way the gaffer drills us — it’s just a breath of fresh air. It’s really exciting and I want to be part of the same style and success this season.”