Leigh Griffiths: Riordan and O'Connor were my Hibs heroes

'You're going to laugh at this,' says Leigh Griffiths, his face creasing with a smile in anticipation of the reaction to his response when he is asked which players he looked up to as a youngster.

As a young Hibs fan, Celtic's Leigh Griffiths looked up to Derek Riordan and Garry O'Connor. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

“But it was Derek Riordan and Garry O’Connor,” he continues after a pause, the suitably comic timing illustrating his own appreciation that neither man would be widely regarded as obvious candidates for any list of Scottish football role models compiled in recent years.

From the perspective of a boyhood Hibernian supporter, however, Riordan and O’Connor ticked every box necessary for Griffiths.

Sign up to our Football newsletter

Sign up to our Football newsletter

“Just on the park,” he is quick to add. “What they did for Hibs was magical. Growing up as a Hibs fan, you would go and support the team and see these two guys up front.

Derek Riordan in action for Hibs. Picture:

“I wanted to be just like them and play for Hibs. I managed to play with Garry in my first season there.

“I still remember the first training session when I walked in and saw him sitting there in the corner. He was one of the first guys to walk up to me and welcome me to the club. That felt like a bit of a whirlwind because these were guys who I looked up to when I was younger.

“Both of them were goalscorers. Derek was maybe more noted for his long-range strikes than his tap-ins, but Garry was a fox in the box when he was at Hibs. He got his big moves and rightly so. When I was at Hibs, his finishing in training was still second to none.

“The long-range strikes are the ones that get talked about. But for me, as a striker, I personally prefer the two-yard tap-ins. They all count, regardless of whether it is 35 yards or two yards. It’s all about goals, which is what Derek and Garry were all about at Hibs.”

Leigh Griffiths has fond memories of playing alongside Garry O'Connor at Hibs. Picture: Craig Williamson/SNS

Griffiths, of course, has been no stranger to the kind of off-field controversies which also dogged the chequered careers of Riordan and O’Connor.

But if the former Easter Road strike duo both failed to wholly fulfil their potential in the game, Griffiths is now displaying encouraging signs of learning from his mistakes to make the most of his talent.

Named Player of the Year by the Scottish Football Writers’ Association for the second time in four years, the Celtic striker appears to have matured both on and off the pitch. Even at the end of a campaign in which he has scored 39 goals, he believes there is still much more to come from him as a player.

“Of course I can get better,” he said. “I’m still working hard in training on my movement, my first touch, my link-up play. Everything can improve. Hopefully next season you will see a better me.”

Derek Riordan in action for Hibs. Picture:

With the Premiership title secured, Griffiths still has one remaining target this season as he bids to become the first Celtic striker to hit the 40-goal mark in a campaign since Henrik Larsson last achieved the feat 12 years ago.

Tonight’s match against St Johnstone at McDiarmid Park offers Griffiths his final chance as he is suspended for Celtic’s last game of the season at home to Motherwell on Sunday.

“Getting to 40 goals would be the perfect way to round off the club season,” he said. “I’m disappointed that I picked up the suspension and won’t be able to play on Sunday. But I’ve got one more game to get that goal I need and I’ll be doing everything I can to get it in Perth.”

Griffiths has had to share the scoring limelight in recent weeks with Patrick Roberts, pictured, and has savoured playing alongside the on-loan Manchester City winger.

Leigh Griffiths has fond memories of playing alongside Garry O'Connor at Hibs. Picture: Craig Williamson/SNS

“He’s a big-game player. You saw that the first time he faced Hearts at Parkhead last month,” said Griffiths. “He scored two very important goals and his finishing is second to none.

“Every time he gets the ball, the fans are up off their seats and it’s a joy to play alongside him because he can do things that other players in the side can’t do.

“As soon as he gets the ball, as a striker you just stay away from him, a bit like you do with James Forrest. One-on-one, you leave him against the full-back because he can turn them inside-out and he can also score a great goal.”