OWAIN Tudor Jones revealed that Gary Speed planned to watch him in Caley Thistle colours this season as he aimed to progress his international career.
The football world has been left stunned by the 42-year-old Wales manager's death on Sunday when he committed suicide.
The towering 27-year-old Inverness CT midfielder, who is battling back from a knee operation which has kept him out since mid-August, had played for the Welsh international team this year - and Speed handed him his first starting shirt in May's 3-1 defeat against Scotland in the Carling Nations tournament.
Tudor Jones told the HN: "I got to know Gary relatively well, as my manager. There were a couple of times where he went out of his way to help me out. Although I had caps previously, he gave me my first national start, against Scotland this year, which was huge for me.
"Before coming to Inverness, there were a couple of problems in terms of leaving Norwich to come here and he phoned me with a little bit of advice about how to deal with the situation, which was a big help. The last time I saw him was when I was away for a game in August and he asked who we were playing next and I told him it was Rangers and he said he'd be keeping an eye out for that one. He actually said he'd actually head up here at some point during the season to keep tabs on me. "I got injured, of course, in that Rangers game and the last time I spoke to him was when I was in my hospital bed - just an hour after my operation. I was feeling low and you sit there with your own thoughts. The phone rang and it was Gary, asking how I was and what had happened.
"I explained that I was going to be out for about four months and I could almost hear the disappointment in his voice, knowing that I was going to be out for so long. It was a nice feeling to know he held me in such high regard. It's a real tragedy."
The former Norwich City middle man, who made a huge impact in the opening games for Terry Butcher's Highlanders when he arrived this summer, admits the news came like a hammer blow.
He said: "I was driving when I got a text from one of my old team-mates asking if it was true. I asked what he meant and answered that I hadn't heard anything. I quickly checked on the internet and there was nothing on there. At that stage, you just hope it's one of those sick rumours, but as I drove on I was listening to Talksport and soon as I heard "breaking news" I knew what was coming.
"It's a horrific time for Gary's family and friends. I feel quite lucky to have grown up as a Welshman, following his career and following him when he played for Wales and skippered the country so many times.
"I was then lucky enough to get to know him myself in the last year as my manager for the national side. It's a huge, huge shock for everybody.
"It's one of those situations where football comes secondary. The FAW (Football Association of Wales) will have to at some point find a successor, but that really is something for the future. All the lads can do when the games come along is to try and qualify in Gary Speed's name and legacy because what was happening in the past few months was that the side were certainly starting to reap the benefits of his ideas."
On Saturday, the night before Speed's tragic death, the Wales manager was on BBC's Football Focus and Tudor-Jones says, having watched it, there were no signs at all that he was troubled.
He explained: "I didn't see him on TV, but I have watched a little bit of it since and it sums up what everyone is saying. It came completely out of left field. He would be right at the bottom of the list if you were talking about a certain individual to be in that kind of state of mind. It almost doesn't seem real."
Tudor Jones is now giving his full attention to making a comeback in Caley Thistle colours.
He said: "It's going well. I started running properly at the start of last week and I am doing more and more each day, running for longer. I am putting a bit more pace into it, although I didn't have too much pace to begin with!
"I hope that before this weekend I can have a little but of ball work with the physio and then, if there are no set-backs, I'll keep progressing over the next couple of weeks and see where we are."
With less midweek matches in Scotland, the Welsh ace hopes that still have a major say in Caley Thistle's recovery this season.
He added: "I like how it's mainly Saturday games in Scotland, which means you don't miss as many games as when you are down south and you're playing Saturday and Tuesdays. I could have missed almost double.
"There are plenty of games remaining this season and I will try and get myself back in the mix and try and help the team out as much as I can."