Neil Lennon does not want Jason “Cum Dog” Cummings to be left wrestling demons when he looks back on his football career.
The Hibernian boss says he wants him to learn lessons from the unfulfilled potential of Easter Road predecessors Derek Riordan and Garry O’Connor, and channel his energies into reaching the top – and staying there.
But, according to Lennon, who made it a priority to keep hold of Cummings when he accepted the task of replacing Alan Stubbs in the summer, the youngster does not need to lose his gallus streak. He believes the current blend of entertainment and dedication is serving his top scorer well.
The footage of Cummings grappling with professional wrestler Grado at the Hibernian training centre this week has proved an internet sensation. Showing the 21-year-old stripped down to his pants, with the moniker “Cum Dog” scrawled across his chest, the ebullient striker lived up to his reputation as the dressing room clown.
The antics also highlighted the feelgood factor that is permeating the newly-promoted Leith club and thrilled head coach Neil Lennon, who is seen in the video cheering his gregarious charge as he climbs on to tables and launches himself off cupboards in the choreographed bout.
Some feared that the timing was suspect, with the Scottish Cup holders set to face Aberdeen tomorrow in the next step of their trophy defence. But Lennon insists that having secured the Championship title last weekend, the players had earned the opportunity to let off steam, raise a few smiles and bolster morale before the trip to Hampden for the semi-final clash.
“As you can see from Jason’s performance earlier on this week [spirits] are good. The players earned the right to enjoy the week.
“We know we’ve got a difficult game ahead of us but there is a lot of football in their legs and training this week has been very light. I thought it was absolutely brilliant, Grado was up doing some filming for charity and Jason was actually getting treatment for his back but when he realised Grado was up, him and Dylan [McGeouch] were like big kids in the playground. They conducted this little routine and I didn’t realise how good it was going to be. I think it epitomises Jason. There’s not enough personalities in the game and he’s all personality.
“It’s all harmless with him and allied to that he’s a good footballer as well. I would not change anything about him. I think the fact it became so popular, you realise the sense of humour that he has. The lads love him and we’ve got a good squad, a good spirit and we’ll need all of that on Saturday.”
The quest to guide the club back to the top flight has been intense, with pressure weighing heavily on the shoulders of everyone at the club, including management and players, which is why the good-humoured display offered some mental respite to players who have had to put their league title-winning celebrations on hold.
And while some viewers feared for Cummings, who has recovered from his back niggle and was back in training yesterday, Lennon was never worried about losing his star striker to an embarrassing injury, saying he has faith in the player’s judgment.
“They knew what they were doing. Grado’s a professional wrestler – and you know that stuff’s real,” he added, tongue in cheek, “so I understand your concern for the lad! But he’s a big game player and he’ll be important for me on Saturday. He’s good for the game and I think that’s the type of boys we are looking for. You don’t want all of them to be like that but we could certainly do with a few more. He delivers. He’s a wee bit gallus but not rude or arrogant in any way. He’s just an unconscious comedian.”
The latest in what some would suggest is a long line of dafties to come through the Hibs ranks, Lennon knows which ones he wants Cummings to ultimately emulate.
“There’s been a few but I don’t want him going down the road of O’Connor or Riordan. I want him to look at [Scott] Brown and [Steven] Whittaker and the Kevin Thomsons of this world and have a prolonged career, at a high level. Through all the bluster he’s actually quite a down-to-earth, smart boy. And I think he knows what he wants out of his career so I hope he stays on the right track.
“Listen, he’s a good pro. He doesn’t miss training, he doesn’t skip out of anything, he never pulls a sickie.
“He comes in every day and he wants to work, he wants to get better. He knows he’s got something, and he’s quite cold, he sees the white in the goalkeeper’s eyes and nine times out of ten he scores. So there is intelligence in there somewhere.”
So far Cummings has netted 21 goals in 36 appearances, with four in the four Scottish Cup games this season. The impressive return is even better given the fact he was forced to settle for a run of starts on the bench partway through the campaign as his gaffer sought a robust response.
“I dropped him at one stage and we played really well and scored lots of goals. And I think he was sitting on the outside looking in, thinking: ‘I don’t want to be sat here.’ He never came knocking on my door, he just got on with his training and when the opportunity came he took it.
“He just went on a really good run of scoring consistently and he has scored in some really big games, and scored really important goals. So he has been priceless to us and I want him to continue because the season is not over, we want him to have a big say on Saturday as well.”