John McGinn remembers when he first played against his Hibs team-mate Jason Cummings and he wasn’t convinced he was anything special.
That was when the midfielder was on the books at St Mirren, both teams were playing in the Premiership and the Easter Road players were struggling in vain to avoid the drop. Two years on and now colleagues at the Leith club, he believes the striker could be one of the key men in their quest to get back to the top flight.
Cummings again showed his calibre with an impressive goal at Ibrox on Monday and while it wasn’t enough to deny Rangers victory, it was enough to encourage others to perk up and take notice as the January transfer window opens. Hibernian manager Alan Stubbs says there have been no formal notes of interest but there have been rumours and rumblings, leaving McGinn anxious to see out the month with Cummings still in situ.
“I don’t think we are planning on losing anyone,” said McGinn. “He is on top form so speculation will come his way but he is used to it and he has seen it happen to other boys and he knows what to expect. The kind of character he is in the dressing room, it certainly won’t bother him but he is not a player we want to lose. He thrives under the attention. It is great to have a guy who has that confidence and composure in the team.”
That opinion represents a volte face and demonstrates just how the youngster has continued to improve since breaking into Hibs’ first team.
“When I played against him, when he first came into the side, I wasn’t really sure about him or if he was good enough for Hibs but he has come on leaps and bounds,” added McGinn. “He is a joy to work with and he is good for me because he is always running and always giving defences a hard time and he has matured an awful lot. He takes the bumps off defenders, he holds it up and he can score brilliant goals and he will go a long way, I’m sure.
“I had played against him twice [when I was at St Mirren] and he didn’t have the best of games but he has been the one since I came here who has really impressed me and shown has more than I thought. That is credit to him.
“He has listened to the people around him and he has played with some experienced strikers and even when he was in the team guys like James Collins gave him loads of tips and he just soaks it all in and learns from them and, as you can see, he is just getting better and better as the season goes on.”
It is the striker who had the firm belief that the team could dredge something from the recent tight matches and had his faith vindicated as they netted late, late goals against Falkirk and Queen of the South. McGinn says that swagger and positivity is infectious.
“We can all use Jason as an inspiration. He is daft but if you take that daftness out of him I don’t think he would be as good a player,” said McGinn. “He has that aura about him. He feels he’s invincible and that’s the way he plays. You don’t want to take that out of him.”
Stubbs’ men sit third in the table, three points behind the leaders and level on points with Falkirk, but they have a game in hand. They are perfectly poised, according to their manager but they will need to get straight back to winning ways against Raith Rovers today. The pressure is on to string together another lengthy unbeaten run but McGinn says that kind of expectation is easier to handle than the alternative.
This time two years ago Hibs were in a forlorn battle to safeguard their top flight status and 12 months ago McGinn and his St Mirren colleagues were in the same nightmare, which is why he says they should all embrace the fact they are fighting for a title and promotion this time around.
“It is a much nicer pressure to be involved in this time. It is something I am enjoying. It was not nice to be down at the bottom of the table and the confidence just seems to be drained from you and you can see that with the teams that are bottom of the SPL just now. It is not easy to get out of it. It is much nicer to be fighting at the top of the league but it is only nicer if you can get something at the end of it.”