The encounters that Graham Cummins has had with fellow Irishman Anthony Stokes in football have seen the St Johnstone forward play the junior role to the on-loan Hibernian striker... even though the Cork man is six months older than Celtic’s Dubliner. On Saturday, as the Perth club meet the Easter Road men in the League Cup semi-final, Cummins will share a footballing occasion with Stokes as his equal.
“I remember years and years ago he was training with one of the under-age Irish teams. They needed a body and I was on some soccer course in Cork so they just threw me in as a body. I was basically a mannequin with legs,” Cummins recalled.
“I remember watching him. I was still a teenager and he was a professional. His touch was unbelievable.”
Stokes also produced a next touch when their paths next crossed. “When I was on trial with Sunderland he was there. He actually dropped me back at the hotel once and was really nice. He is also big mates with a fella I know back home. I don’t think he knows me.”
Cummins might rate Stokes a “massive” signing, whom he considers made “a good start to his latest spell” with the Leith club by scoring in their Championship victory over St Mirren last weekend. The fact is though that in the past year Cummins has scored eight senior goals to Stokes’ one.
The 28-year-old St Johnstone front man might be one of the few that appreciate the elongated nature of Scotland’s League Cup. Following a fine start to his career in Scotland after arriving from Exeter in the summer, his 2015 came to a premature end after he sustained a hamstring injury in early November. It cost him two months but not the chance of helping his team to the first domestic final.
“I didn’t realise there was such a lay-off between the quarter and semi-finals in Scotland. It has been good because I was out a long time and the semi-final was one I was really targeting. Even people back home have been going on about this game. It is something to really look forward to. It is good it is at Tynecastle because the atmosphere there is amazing. I remember it from the first game of the season.
“I scored and have good memories although we lost [4-3 to Hearts]. I hope Saturday can bring a similar atmosphere but with a different result.”
Cummins started his career with Cobh Ramblers, then had a short spell with Waterford before a productive spell at Cork City which earned him a move to Preston North End four years ago. He left his native Ireland with plenty experience of competing in the latter stages of knock-out tournaments.
“In the League of Ireland I got to semi-finals of the League and FAI Cups. We lost the FAI semi-final but the League Cup semi-finals we won and then lost in the final. I remember the excitement of those games and them getting all the boys going around the club. We all want to get to a final but we have to focus on Saturday.”
The pursuit of cup glory wasn’t the deal-maker that resulted in Cummins moving to Perth, however.
“Coming up and playing against Celtic and looking to do well in the cups were big selling points in this move but you don’t really think you are definitely going to make a cup final.
“Even when we beat Rangers [in the third round] I wasn’t thinking about the final even though we are getting closer now. We know if we turn up and do what we can do then we can get a result.”