Jonny Hayes was a rough diamond when he arrived in Scotland.
And his former Inverness coach Maurice Malpas has taken pleasure and pride in watching the shine and polish put on the Dundee United target over the past decade.
The Tannadice legend – Terry Butcher’s No2 at Caley Thistle – remembers the 32-year-old Irishman’s early days on these shores with fondness.
The managerial duo knew they had a talent on their hands, but one that would occasionally frustrate them with his profligacy in wide positions and needed time to adapt to their training demands in the Highlands.
Incredibly, Hayes – who had played very little senior football at that stage of his career – scored 10 goals in 43 games in all competitions as Inverness clinched the 2009/10 First Division title.
Malpas, 57, told Tele Sport: “We got Jonny as a raw kid and we went from one extreme to the other at times.
“Jonny was recommended to us from one of our guys down south and he came up for pre-season.
“He hadn’t played that many first-team games and hadn’t been put under any pressure.
“He wasn’t sure what it was going to be like with us at Inverness and we weren’t sure what he was going to be like.
“The first thing you noticed was his sheer pace. We knew we needed to improve his fitness.
“Once we got him fit – we needed to get him up to scratch and keep him playing at the same time – and got into his head in terms of how we played, he was great for us.
“He was brilliant at taking the ball, getting us up the park and running past defenders, his pace was a major asset.
“I didn’t have a lot of hair at the time but I still lost a bit because he would drive you bananas at times with some of the silly things he’d do in good positions.
“It goes without saying that he’s matured well beyond that now. He might have lost a bit of pace in recent years but he is a seasoned campaigner.
“Back then he was desperate to come up to Scotland and play games.
“The big thing we sold him on was the area, the lifestyle – the tranquillity up here compared to the hurly-burly down south.
“We told him he could get himself on the TV, sell himself in the big games and we were the type of club that if someone came in for you with a decent offer, you’d have the option to go.”
Hayes – who started out at Reading – eventually left for Aberdeen in 2012 after three years with Inverness.
Over 200 games in five seasons and a League Cup winners’ medal in the Granite City followed before he clinched a £1 million move to Celtic.
The winger struggled to establish himself as a Hoops regular but he started several crucial games for the Scottish champions, including the 2019 Scottish Cup final triumph over Hearts and the stunning Europa League victory over Lazio in Rome last November.
Two months earlier he grabbed the second goal in the Old Firm derby as Neil Lennon’s side beat Rangers 2-0 at Ibrox.
Hayes’ Parkhead exit – which has also led to interest from his former employers at Pittodrie – came less than two weeks after he picked up his third title medal in three campaigns with the club.
Malpas said: “I thought Jonny would’ve got another contract at Celtic and that he would happily have stayed.
“But maybe they’re trimming their squad a bit to get players in and maybe there wasn’t going to be the chance to play as many games next season.
“He certainly didn’t let Celtic down when he was called upon.
“For United, though, good on them for trying to sign Jonny. They’re clearly thinking about the right players and I think that’s the type of player they need.
“He’s experienced and he’s played at a very good level. He’s still got pace, he can play in more than one position and he’s good in a dressing room.
“I think if you were struggling in the middle of the pitch he could do a job there as well.
“You’d never say he was the best defender, but he never seems to get a doing from the wide players he plays against.
“Sometimes you think he isn’t the best at beating people yet he always seems to get crosses in.
“For us at Inverness he was great at getting the ball in the box and created a lot of goals for guys like Adam Rooney.”
The former United captain saw a transformation in Hayes during his time with the Dons.
He added: “I’ve followed Jonny’s career for years and hoped he would do well.
“He was great for us and did everything we asked. He’s one of the many guys you like to think you’ve helped a bit.
“Jonny’s really matured and looked after his fitness. At Aberdeen he was playing under a bit more pressure in front of a more demanding crowd and that helped him make the move to Celtic.
“He was a cheeky chappie when we had him – if he got a bit of stick, he’d give a bit back. Some things used to affect him but I could see a difference at Aberdeen, he’d outgrown that and he could handle that.
“We had a great group at Inverness. When we went in, we only kept three or four players and started again.
“Graeme Shinnie was one of the kids that was there and he has developed into a right good player as well.
“These guys would run through a wall for you and they were a joy to work with.
“We didn’t have great facilities but these guys wanted to learn, they wanted to work and they had a great attitude.”