ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
GRAHAM STACK reckons Jason Cummings’ Hibee hijinks will be invaluable ahead of a nerve-shredding Scottish Cup clash against Aberdeen, as he compared the irrepressible marksman to Derek Riordan and Leigh Griffiths.
The 21-year-old had social media in meltdown on Tuesday after uploading a video of himself grappling with Scottish wrestling star Grado in the canteen at Hibs’ training centre – sporting nothing but a bandana and a pair of pants.
Hibs’ management team of Neil Lennon and Garry Parker were in stitches as teammates roared the pair on, with striker Grant Holt counting the pin-fall as Cummings emerged victorious from the mock scrap.
Former Easter Road stopper Stack, who was between the sticks for Hibs in 2012 when they defeated Aberdeen in the Scottish Cup semi-final, knows from experience that having a joker in the pack will be vital in the build-up to the Hampden showdown.
“You’ve got to have guys like that. They are absolutely key,” said Stack, now number one at English outfit Eastleigh.
“I was watching that video earlier in the week and that just smacks of a boy who plays without fear and is a big personality. He’ll make sure the dressing room is buzzing then, when he steps over the line, will score goals and rise to the occasion.
“You need a mix of people, and everyone has different personalities, but it is good to have those big characters who will have a laugh and a joke, because they will take pressure off other people.
“You don’t want a quiet, anxious dressing room, and it looks like they have a really good bunch in there – which will be important ahead of such a big game.”
Stack, however, is adamant Cummings’ quality is no laughing matter. He played alongside Riordan, Griffiths, Anthony Stokes and Garry O’Connor during his three years on Leith, so knows a promising striker when he sees one – and he reckons Cummings has all the tools to reach the top.
The comparison with ‘Sparky’, now at Celtic, is particularly timely, given he netted the last-gasp winner when Hibs prevailed from that semi-final five years ago.
He continued: “Sparky scored some vital goals for us in that season, including that one against Aberdeen. As long as you stayed in the game, he would get you a goal. He was our talisman and the one who would win us the game with a moment of magic. It’s no surprise to me that he has gone on to do so well for Celtic.
“Leigh is a cracking lad, and always had so much ability. That left foot was just frightening – technique, power. He has energy, personality and character and was massive for us that season, along with the likes of Gaz [O’Connor].
“Sparky, Deeks [Derek Riordan] and Jason Cummings – to me, I think they fall into the same category of being hugely gifted players, who all thrive on the biggest occasions. He’s a player who can unlock doors and settle big games, which is what you need. He’ll be massive on Saturday, no doubt.”
Reflecting on that encounter five years ago, Stack admits it was a bittersweet afternoon – as he realised two of his career dreams, only to be denied a third.
He limped off injured after 73 minutes to be replaced by Mark Brown and was ultimately ruled out of the final, which Hibs went on to lose 5-1 against Hearts. Stack never played for the club again.
He recalled: “The three things I wanted to do when I came up to Scotland were: play at Hampden, qualify for Europe and win some silverware. That game against Aberdeen was the the day I ticked off two of those – and two out of three ain’t bad!
“Unfortunately, it didn’t work out the way I would have liked in the end, coming off injured and then not getting the chance to play against Hearts for the trophy, but I like to think I played a part in us getting that far.”
And Stack, who will attend the final on May 27 with his family if Neil Lennon’s men progress, has urged the bumper Hibs crowd to roar their side onto glory after it was confirmed that they have sold upwards of 18,000 tickets for the encounter.
He continued: “I’ve played at Anfield, I’ve heard ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, but let me tell you, ‘Sunshine on Leith is a bit special. Listening to that at Hampden is one of the best feelings in football. And it does motivate you, it does drive you.
“When those fans are with you – as they normally are – they can drag you over the line.”