By Alan Temple, Spain – @CCP_Sport
Jason Cummings has vowed to rise to the occasion of the League Cup final as he aims to complete his rise from the scrapheap to silverware.
The 20-year-old’s rocky road to the top has been well-documented, with the irrepressible youngster released by Hearts in 2012 following a serious knee injury.
He now describes that as ‘the best thing that ever happened to me’ and takes particular glee in celebrating netting against his former club; a regular occurrence, with goals in his last four derby outings.
Yet that knock-back prompted a period out of the game. Cummings worked as a gardener before a prolific stint with Edinburgh amateurs Hutchison Vale rekindled his love for football and caught the eye of Hibs.
He is now arguably the hottest property in the SPFL after plundering 20 goals this season and has spearheaded the Easter Road outfit’s challenge on three fronts. And a first senior trophy would truly cap his ascent.
He smiles: “I used to tell my teachers there’s no point in me getting any qualifications because I’m going to be a footballer anyway. They used to laugh and think I was joking, but I told them.
“When Hearts let me go, I always said that I would come back stronger. I’ve mellowed out [towards Hearts] since then but it did drive me on. If it didn’t happen, I probably wouldn’t have the same motivation that I’ve got today.
“I’ll never take being a footballer for granted. I can compare it to being a gardener . . . that was really hard work. Footballers have got it so easy. It’s the best job in the world. I’m just so grateful every day that this is my job.
“I always knew I’d make it as a footballer, no matter what. I was never going to give up.”
It is that unwavering self-confidence which will undoubtedly ensure Cummings is not cowed by the occasion on Sunday, despite a run of three matches without a goal – remarkably, his longest goal drought of the season.
He continued: “Personally, I thrive on these occasions; I come alive in the big games. I’m really looking forward to it and hope to make my mark on the final. I’ve had a few dreams about scoring in the final.
“Winning the cup would be the icing on the cake for me. I still remember the feeling of winning a cup when I was in Primary 7 at Stenhouse Primary!
“It would be good to put on the CV and a medal will look great on the mantelpiece.”
Should he help to see off County at Hampden, Cummings is determined to lap up every moment of 30,000 Hibees belting out ‘Sunshine on Leith’ at the national stadium.
He was denied the opportunity to soak up the club’s unofficial anthem following Hibs’ recent 1-0 win over Hearts, having been sent off when he picked up a second yellow card for dissent.
With regulations stating he was not allowed back onto the pitch, chief executive Leeann Dempster intervened to stop him from returning to the field – meaning he missed an ‘emotional’ moment at Easter Road.
He added: “I was up in Leeann’s room and watching it. They were incredible scenes. It was gutting not to be out there.
“It was such an emotional time – really moving. I didn’t realise I couldn’t go back out. I was on my way. It was the first time I’ve ever been sent off in my career, so I didn’t know. There will probably be a few more to come!
“I got the second yellow for kicking the ball away, which was silly from myself, but the game’s got a wee bit flimsy – it’s not like the old days when you had Keano [Roy Keane] dropkicking people and not getting a yellow!
“It would be amazing to hear that at Hampden. Sunshine on Leith is an absolute anthem, probably one of the best songs in football. There’s no better moment than that.”
Meanwhile, Cummings insists contract talks with Hibs can wait until the capital club have navigated the cup commitments.
With a swathe of clubs south of the border circling the Scotland under-21 star, the Hibees are keen to get their talisman tied to a bumper new deal in the near future.
He said: “I’m still in talks but I’m just concentrating on my football and this big game coming up. I’m very content here. It’s a pleasure to play with all the boys and under the gaffer. I’m happy here.”