Leigh Griffiths may be desperate to become the first Hibs star in 40 years to score 30 goals in a season, but there’s no-one more anxious to see him achieve that record than Easter Road legend Jimmy O’Rourke who, along with Alan Gordon, was the last player in a Hibs shirt to hit that milestone.
O’Rourke and Gordon plundered an astonishing 76 goals between them as Turnbull’s Tornadoes claimed an almost unbelievable 141 in all competitions in season 1972/73, the highlight of course being the 7-0 thrashing of Capital rivals Hearts at Tynecastle in which they both scored twice.
Griffiths’ record may appear a touch more modest by comparison, but, insisted O’Rourke, the 22-year-old will fully deserve all the accolades that will come his way should he manage to get three more goals over the course of Hibs’ final four matches and hit that magical mark.
The on-loan Wolves hitman claimed two more as Hibs were forced to settle for a 3-3 draw with St Mirren at the weekend. That brace took him to within one of the 28 netted by Steve Cowan in season 1985/86, the closest anyone has come to 30, and eclipsing the feats of his boyhood hero Derek Riordan and Anthony Stokes who can both lay claim to score 23 in a season.
O’Rourke said: “It’s quite incredible to think no Hibs striker has managed to get 30 goals in a season in all those years considering some of the players we’ve had at Easter Road, so it would be a terrific achievement if Leigh could do it this season.
“Some of his strikes have been simply sensational, a number of them candidates for goal of the season. Take his first against St Mirren last weekend for instance, great skill, to cut inside the two players before roofing it.
“I really like him as a player, he’s quick, has bags of talent and certainly an eye for goal. He has plenty of attributes and is actually quite unique in his own way. He also seems to be one of those players who rises to the occasion, someone who has confidence in his own ability as he showed in the Scottish Cup semi-final when, despite seeing that crucial penalty saved, he was still there to put away the next chance and then that sensational winner.”
Like Griffiths, O’Rourke, now 66, lived the dream playing for the club he’s supported all his life, and he’s been delighted to see the former Leith Athletic, Livingston and Dundee striker putting the smiles back on the faces of thousands of Hibs supporters.
And O’Rourke fully appreciates the efforts of Griffiths who so many times this season has been asked to play the thankless role of sole striker in a team which no-one would dare compare to the side assembled by Eddie Turnbull, one packed with stars such as Pat Stanton, John Blackley, John Brownlie, Eric Schaedler, Alex Cropley, Alex Edwards and, of course, Gordon and O’Rourke.
He said: “I don’t know if Hibs have been over-reliant on Griffiths this season, but it would be interesting to work out how many matches the team have won when he hasn’t scored given that he’s been responsible for something like half of all the goals we’ve scored in the SPL.
“Leigh has been a breath of fresh air, he’s given the Hibs fans plenty of pleasure with his goals and the way he plays the game. Every time he gets the ball you think something is going to happen; he gets people onto the edges of their seats.
“It’s good for them to have someone to talk about and to look forward to seeing play.
“He’s had to do a lot of it himself and it can’t have been easy playing up there alone for much of the time. He’s had to live on scraps at times whereas Alan and I had each other. We had tremendous players like Pat, Alex Edwards and Alex Cropley providing decent service for us. You’d probably find the two Alexes credited with something like 70 assists apiece that season.
“Then we had John Brownlie bombing down one flank and Eric on the other side. We scored an awful lot of goals, it wasn’t uncommon for us to get three, four, five, six, seven or even eight in a game. But times change and teams in general seem to score fewer goals these days.”
The goals provided by Griffiths have resulted in him being one of four nominees for PFA Scotland’s Player of the Year Award, a leading contender for the Scottish Football Writers’ Award and, according to assistant Scotland boss Mark McGhee, someone marked for a place in Gordon Strachan’s squad for June’s World Cup qualifying match against Croatia in Zagreb.
O’Rourke admitted he’d find it hard to argue against recognition on all three fronts. He said: “If you look at the other leading scorers in the SPL, Michael Higdon of Motherwell and Gary Hooper of Celtic are both English and Niall McGinn of Aberdeen is Irish, so that makes Leigh the top Scottish striker in the league.
“I don’t think Gordon Strachan can ignore him, particularly if he continues scoring between now and the end of the season and, hopefully, hits the 30 mark.”
O’Rourke acknowledged Griffiths has attracted some unwanted headlines over the course of the past few months, but, he insisted, much of it has been unwarranted.
He said: “Social media is a great thing, but for football players such as Leigh there is a real lack of privacy these days.
“Everywhere you go and whatever you do, even the most mundane things of everyday life, there will be someone with a camera phone all too ready to post photographs on a website.
“These guys should be able to go about their daily business without all that sort of hassle, particularly the stuff you read about people insulting them and their families, that’s totally wrong.
“It’s not something I would have enjoyed in my time as a player and thankfully it’s something we didn’t have to deal with in my day.”