IT MIGHT have broken someone with less self-confidence. Jason Cummings was aware he already had much to prove to the Hibernian fans, concerned by his Hearts-supporting background.
He had more than started to do this with a brace in Hibs’ 2-0 victory over Hamilton Accies in the first leg of last year’s Premiership play-off. But then came the disastrous second leg, culminating in the bleakest few seconds of Cummings’ short career. Admirably eager to take one of the spot-kicks required to separate the teams after Hamilton’s stunning comeback, the striker endured the agony of having what proved to be the decisive penalty saved by the goalkeeper.
“It took me a while to get over that,” he reflected yesterday. “I was devastated for days and couldn’t face going out with my mates for weeks. I wasn’t myself at all. I’m normally quite out-going but I was just gutted and slumping around.
“I was up all night after the Hamilton game, I couldn’t sleep. I was kicking myself. I’ve seen it a few times and people keep reminding me about it on Twitter… Hamilton and Hearts fans like to give it a wee mention.”
Fast-forward (nearly) 12 months, and the mentions are (mostly) positive ones. He has recovered his self-assurance. He has rediscovered his swagger, if indeed you can believe he ever lost it. When mention is made of Hibs’ plans to arrange a training camp abroad in the break before the play-off semi-final, providing they can secure second place tomorrow against Falkirk, he brightened immediately.
“Hopefully we can get out of here and this rubbish weather and go somewhere – Magaluf hopefully!” He then remembered the point of such an excursion. “It’s up to the gaffer where we go… so I don’t think it will be Magaluf,” he accepted.
I was up all night after the Hamilton game, I couldn’t sleep. I was kicking myself.Jason Cummings
Still, he is definitely back to normal. He is not the Jason Cummings who was led away in tears after Kevin Cuthbert saved that penalty. The blond hitman has regained his sparkle. Helping him do this is the SPFL young player of the month award for April he clutched yesterday, after scoring in four of Hibs’ last six games. These strikes have helped nudge his tally towards the 20-goal mark. One more in tomorrow’s clash with Falkirk, where a win will guarantee Hibs second spot, will see him hit this target. Whether he reaches it or not will have no bearing on the widespread feeling he has long since made-up for the failure to convert that significant kick.
Without his 19 goals to date, all but two of which have come in the league, Hibs might not even have secured a play-off place, never mind hope to finish second ahead of Rangers. But there is still some work to do to complete the redemptive arc.
“It would mean everything to score the goals that take Hibs back up,” said Cummings. “Last season started well for me and then ended with the worst thing that has ever happened in my career, missing that penalty. If anything, it has made me stronger.”
There was some comment at the time as to why then manager Terry Butcher agreed to let an 18 year old take such a vital penalty. But Cummings absolves Butcher of blame. He was up for it. And he still is, given the opportunity. It’s even more impressive that his 19-goal haul includes no penalties.
“I want to take penalties now but Liam [Craig] and Dylan [McGeouch] have been on them,” he said. “But Dylan missed the last one so I think I might be on them now. Any chance I can get to score I’ll take with both hands.”
He remembers being desperate to take the one against Hamilton. “I said to the gaffer at the time: ‘I deffo want to take a pen’. He asked me if I was sure and I told him I 100 per cent wanted to take one. I’d rather take the penalty and stand up and be counted, rather than bottle it. I think the gaffer was thinking if he put me on the last kick, then maybe I wouldn’t need to take one, but it didn’t go to plan. I’m still glad he let me take it. It’s made me a stronger player.”
He is still endearingly prone to the odd remark highlighting how he is one of a kind. After scoring twice at Ibrox earlier this season, Cummings remarked he had “the touch of an angel” in a post-match interview. This comment was leapt on by Leigh Griffiths, of all people, who branded him a “Billy big time” on Twitter. Cummings doesn’t hold it against the former Hibs striker, though there was a flash of the arrogance we know and have come, perhaps, to love.
“How many goals has he got? 18?” asked Cummings, possibly impishly. He then added: “Griffiths is a top player, if I could do what he did at Hibs that would be great.
“He loves scoring goals and so do I. I actually think we have a lot more in common than people might think…”