Leigh Griffiths reveals his real career incentive

SUM up Leigh Griffiths in two words. It’s a game many would be happy to play.

Leigh Griffiths in action for Hibernian. Picture: SNS

In fact, having read the opening sentence, most will have answered, almost instinctively, already. After all, everyone has an opinion about the on-loan Hibs striker. Some idolise him for his glut of goals and talismanic presence in Pat Fenlon’s side. Others are less charitable. Some are despairing, some downright disparaging but everyone thinks they know him.

Few really do, though, insists the 22-year-old. For all the off-field transgressions and alleged misdemeanours, it’s not the past mistakes and regrets that define him. Neither is it the impressive haul of 27 goals, which leaves him three shy of becoming the first Hibs striker in over 40 years to score 30 or more in a season. Nor is it the man-of-the-match performances which have helped his side to their second successive Scottish Cup final. The nominations for awards and the chance to win trophies are all welcomed but they sum him up as a player, not as a person.

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Whittle away at it all and at the core is Griffiths the doting dad. “I love playing with my kids and looking after them and, if anybody knows me, they know I’m a family man and that’s what I do when I’m away from football. I try to spend as much time as I can with my kids. They are the love of my life and I would do anything for them.”

So far there are three of them – two-year-olds Rhys and Kacie and eight-month-old Layla – and there is another on the way and, while they have been the focus of much of the abuse which has infuriated Griffiths and prompted some ill-advised retorts, they are also his primary reason for trying to shy away from the negatives and focus on his football.

The older two attend many of his matches and just a glimpse of them in the stands usually dissipates any of the anger or frustration he feels on the park, while his desire to provide for them emotionally and financially means he is having to screw the nut off the pitch as well.

In essence, he says they are helping him become a better person and a more focused player.

“They make me happy. Layla is still a bit young to be coming to games but she will hopefully be at the cup final. But Rhys and Kacie are at every home game and I always go to give them a kiss and cuddle before I go in to get changed. They do know where they are but I don’t think they are bothered about watching the game, they just want to play with each other. But I try to play as well as I can for them because I want to give them the things I never had as a child.

“It’s not a long career. Most players have 10-15 years at the most and, hopefully, by the end of it my kids will be able to look back on my career and say to their friends ‘my dad did this or that’.

“Getting medals does drive me on, especially as I’ve only got one winners’ medal in a cup to my name so far [Challenge Cup with Dundee]. I have a [Scottish Cup] runners-up one but, hopefully, I can rectify that on May 26 and get a Scottish Cup winners’ medal.”

A regular place in the Scotland side is another target after his inclusion in the squad for the November 2012 friendly against Luxembourg. “Some people might say it was a meaningless friendly but to me it was the highlight of my career so far, getting capped for my country, and if I could add another in a World Cup qualifier I would be delighted and I know my friends and family would be really proud.”

The next qualifier is in Croatia, on 7 June and, thanks to Hibs’ Scottish Cup run, he will be one of the few in-form strikers who will be in action right up until the squad gets together. There is a degree of hope, without expectation.

“If I get a call-up, I get a call-up and, if not, I will just work hard in training again next season, keep my head down and try to perform to the best I can and, hopefully, I will reap the rewards in the end.”

Scotland assistant manager Mark McGhee has said Griffiths is very much in the reckoning, insisting he will be judged purely on his football ability. On that basis, it has been one helluva season for the former Livingston starlet. Still in the reckoning to end the season as SPL top scorer, still in the hunt for a Scottish Cup winners’ medal, he is still only 22, receiving enough votes from his peers to see him shortlisted for both Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year at tonight’s PFA Scotland awards dinner. One of his strikes is also nominated for goal of the season.

His talent could take him a long way in the game, if only he can stop shooting himself in the foot with the kind of episodes that have put him on newspaper front pages, rather than stealing the show on a footballing stage.

At Hibs, captain James McPake and manager Pat Fenlon have protected him and guided him, but he looks destined to leave the capital side in the summer, with Wolves manager Dean Saunders expected to take up a one-year option on his contract.

A Hibs fan, Griffiths has loved his time at Easter Road and his heart will remain in Leith when he heads back down south but, as a father, there are other considerations.

“You want to play as many games as you can and pick where you play but sometimes a team will offer you a life-changing amount of money and it’s something you really have to consider because I want to give the kids everything I didn’t have.

“I’m only 22 so, hopefully, I have a few more years to make as much money as I can.”

To do that he will have to survive without the counsel of Fenlon and McPake and stay on the straight and narrow and do his talking on the pitch, not on Twitter. There are no guarantees but, for the sake of his kids, he will be doing his best.