Hibs kid Jason Cummings isn’t the first – and he certainly won’t be the last – youngster to declare he’s “living the dream” of being a professional football player.
But few would fail to understand that’s exactly how the 18-year-old feels having suffered a serious knee injury which required three operations, put him out of the game for two years and almost forced him to pack it all in when, on the back of it all, he was released by Hearts.
Even six months ago, the thought of running out at Easter Road tonight for his first Edinburgh derby would have seemed nothing more than a flight of fancy as Cummings earned a living as a gardener.
Today, Cummings admitted he still had to pinch himself to realise the remarkable twist his career has taken is fact rather than fiction, from the soccer scrapheap to one of the Scottish Premiership’s most promising young strikers.
Although Hearts made a bid to persuade him to return to Tynecastle after a season of banging in the goals after he’d returned to his roots with Hutchison Vale, Cummings turned his back on the Gorgie outfit – reckoning they’d had their chance – before he jumped at the chance to sign for Capital rivals Hibs.
Even so, Cummings admits, when he signed at the beginning of August his thoughts were solely on securing a place in Hibs Under-20 side, never thinking for one minute that by the end of the month he’d be on the first-team bench and that by the end of the year he’d be a regular in Terry Butcher’s side.
Cummings, though, continued to find the back of the net on a regular basis, claiming 30 goals for the Easter Road outfit’s Under-20 and East of Scotland teams before the end of November to stake his claim for a promotion so rapid it practically took his breath away.
He said: “After what had happened, I went back to Hutchie Vale, I just wanted to be playing with my mates again. I’d enjoyed being there before I went to Hearts and it went really well. I lost count of how many goals I scored, I reckoned I was averaging a minimum of three goals a game. It was probably the best season I’d had, we won the treble and a few cups.
“I’d taken a job as a gardener when I left school, a mate’s father had his own company and took me on. It was great in the summer, not so great in winter, but I enjoyed it.
“It’s hard to remember that only six months ago I was pulling up weeds and mowing lawns and playing football at Saughton Park and now I’m playing at Easter Road. Never in my wildest dreams could this have happened. Even when I joined the Hibs Academy, playing for the first team was the furthest thing from my mind. I just wanted to make a name for myself in the Under-20 team.
“There were a few attractions for me in joining Hibs, but the fact they are known as one of the best clubs in the country for playing youngsters was obviously one of them. Just look at the current squad, there’s Jordon Forster, Danny Handling, Sammy Stanton, Alex Harris, Ross Caldwell and now myself. I knew if you did well you’d be given a chnace although I never thought it would be so quick in coming.”
Cummings made his debut stepping from the bench on the day Butcher sat in the stand at Easter Road mulling over his future as his then club Inverness Caledonian Thistle took on Hibs, his assistant Maurice Malpas in charge of the Highland oufit for the day while Jimmy Nicholl was in the home dugout following Pat Fenlon’s departure.
Cummings said: “It was brilliant to get on that day. I was buzzing when Jimmy gave me the nod. I must have done something right even although we lost because I’ve been in the squad more or less since.”
Even so, Cummings admits a certain degree of frustration having gone from being a regular scorer in the Under-20s to still be awaiting his first goal in the top flight, Hibs’ goal drought having been brought to an end in style with five in their last two matches. Desperate he might understandably be to get off the mark, Cummings, while admitting he can’t wait to celebrate that first goal, insisted he’ll draw on his early experiences in a green-and-white shirt to remain patient.
He said: “Under-20 football was a step up from playing with Hutchie’s Under-18s and I didn’t score in my first five or six matches. Then I got my first one and they just started coming for me. In our last couple of matches, Michael Nelson and Jordon Forster have scored their first goals for the club while Paul Hanlon, Paul Cairney and Lewis Stevenson have all got their first of the season.
“There’s a first time for everything – hopefully there will be a first for me soon.”
Naturally, Cummings would love that to be tonight while insisting he’s nothing to prove to a Hearts side packed with familiar faces. He said: “The likes of Sam Nicholson adn Adam King were in my team at Hearts for about five years while I know most of the boys there. Callum Paterson and Callum Tapping were round and about while Jamie Walker lives about two minutes away from me.
“Of course it would be great if I could score but Hibs winning is the most important thing. It’s not Jason Cummings against Hearts, it’s Hibs v Hearts. The most important thing is a Hibs win.
“I’ve already played at Celtic Park but being involved in a derby is something I’ve always dreamt of. The gaffer has already said to me just to do my normal thing, that I have already proved myself by where I am today.”
The predicament Hearts find themselves in, burdened by the fall-out from the excesses of the Vladimir Romanov days, is well known but, Cummings insisted, there is no room for sentiment on his part.
He said: “We’ve probably gone into the last two derbies as favourites and lost which shows anything can happen in these matches but there’s a renewed confidence within our squad. We’re on a good run at the moment, just one defeat in seven games which came away to Celtic and we’re going into tonight on the back of two good victories so we are quietly confident of coming out with the right result this time.”