With his stock continuing to soar, it would be easy for Jason Cummings to get carried away as he basks in the spring sunshine at Hibs’ luxurious League Cup final training camp on the Costa del Sol.
For all that he may publicly give off the impression of being carefree and cocky, there remains an endearing humility about the striker. Memories of grafting as a gardener as recently as three years ago mean the 20-year-old west Edinburgh boy will always have a good reference point to stop his reputation as one of Scotland’s hottest strikers going to his head. “I’ll never take being a footballer for granted,” said Cummings. “There aren’t many jobs where you can come away to Spain and have a bit of training in the sun. I was buzzing when I heard we were coming here. When I was gardening, it 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.”
Cummings’ appreciation of life as Hibs’ main striker is further aided by the hero worship he receives from young boys who dream of following in his footsteps. Although being one of the most recognisable footballers in Edinburgh carries obvious pitfalls, the Cummings insists the downside of fame is heavily offset by the feeling that he is inspiring starry-eyed supporters.
“I wouldn’t say I’m a celeb but you do get a lot attention,” he said. “Some of it’s good and some of it’s bad, but the good certainly makes up for the bad stuff. You get a lot of young boys looking up to you and wanting to be you and that really touches you. You get young lads coming up to me, saying they want to be like me, and I won’t forget that. I’ve had to get used to being a role model so I want to show them a good example.”
Cummings’ profile will grow further if he can make a positive impact in Sunday’s League Cup final against Ross County. Returning from Hampden with a winner’s medal would represent another notable landmark in his remarkable journey since being released by Hearts four years ago.
“When Hearts let me go, I always said that I would come back stronger and get a bit of revenge,” he explained. “I’ve mellowed out about it since then but it did drive me on. It’s probably the best thing that ever happened to me because if it didn’t happen, I probably wouldn’t have the same motivation that I’ve got today.
“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 P7 at Stenhouse Primary. I scored the winner and it was the best feeling ever, so I’d love to get my hands on the trophy on Sunday. That would be different class. It would be good to put on the CV. A medal will look good on the mantelpiece.”
Cummings’ determination to make it has always been burning inside him. He insists he was never of a mind to give up, even when he had to return to the boys club ranks with Hutchison Vale after Hearts cut him loose.
“I always knew I’d make it as a footballer, no matter what,” he said. “I was never going to give up on it even after I got released by Hearts. 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 I’d make it. I’m not in contact with any of my teachers any more but I think they’re happy with that situation. They’ll have been happy to see the back of me.”
Nobody of a Hibs persuasion wants to see the back of Cummings any time soon. He is contracted until the end of next season, but English vultures are circling with intent. Hibs have offered Cummings a new deal but as yet it remains unsigned. The striker insists he is happy at Easter Road and will address his long-term future in due course.
“I’m still in talks, but I’m just concentrating on my football and this big game coming up,” he said. “After the games are out the way, I’m sure we’ll start talking about it more. I’m very content here. We all get on so well. As well as being team-mates, we’re genuinely all good mates. It’s a pleasure to play with all the boys and under the gaffer.”
Cummings, with 20 goals this season, is confident he can get back on the scoresheet at Hampden after failing to find the net since hitting the winner against Hearts in the Scottish Cup last month. “I’ve had a few dreams about scoring in the final, so it would be different class if I could score,” he said. “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.
“Dealing with the occasion is important and we have a lot of boys who have played in big games. Even just this season, we have played in big games and have always done well.”
The chance to be on the pitch for a rousing rendition of Sunshine on Leith at Hampden offers further incentive for Cummings on Sunday after his late red card meant he had to stay in the stand while his team-mates took the acclaim when the club anthem was being belted out around Easter Road following the recent derby victory.
“I was up in [chief executive] Leeann Dempster’s room watching it,” he said. “I didn’t realise I couldn’t go back out – I was on my way back out until Leeann stopped me. They were incredible scenes. It was gutting not to be out there. It was such an emotional time, really moving and different class. Sunshine on Leith is an absolute anthem, probably one of the best songs in football. There’s no better moment than that. It would be amazing to hear that at Hampden.”