James Keatings celebrated Hibs’ historic Scottish Cup win by getting a tattoo to mark the occasion - and he insists he’s got plenty of room for more.
The Easter Road outfit almost made it a remarkable double last season, just losing out on the League Cup, but while adamant promotion again remains the ultimate goal for the Capital club, Keatings insisted he and his team-mates want to be fighting on all three fronts again this time round.
Neil Lennon’s side begin their bid to emulate their drive to Hampden in what is now called the Betfred Cup when they take on fellow Championship outfit Queen of the South at Easter Road tonight in a bid to clinch a place in the last eight of the competition.
And, declared, Keatings, no-one at Easter Road is happy to rest on their laurels, even if their place in the club’s history is secure after securing the “Holy Grail” after a 114-year wait.
He said: “The feeling of winning the cup was amazing, probably the best I’ve felt, although I won the league [the Championship] the other year, which was great.
“But when you get success and win things, you just want to keep winning. We want to take every opportunity of silverware and win every game we can. That is no different with the cup games, we want to go as far as we can.
“Our record in the cup has been good. Last season was obviously good, reaching two finals and winning the Scottish Cup.
“We then fell just short in the play-offs, which was devastating. But we want to keep winning in all three competitions. When you get success and win things, you just want to keep winning. You want to get over the disappointments and you can use that to not feel that way again.
“If we win another trophy, I’ll be getting another tattoo. Definitely. There is plenty of room left on my body for another one.”
Hibs got the new season off to a flying start with an important win away to Falkirk, the side which pipped them to second place in the table and then ended their promotion hopes in the play-off but, Keatings revealed, new boss Lennon won’t accept anything less – even in training.
He said: “The manager is the way he is, he doesn’t take losing lightly and all the boys know that. Even in training, if a team goes two or three goals down he isn’t happy, He wants there to be level games in training and for them to be really competitive. He’s been brilliant that way, he wants us to win everything.”
Former Celtic, Hamilton and Hearts striker Keatings has found himself playing in a less familiar role in recent weeks behind the front-two partnership of Jason Cummings and Grant Holt, with Lennon having expressed the belief he can be as influential in that position for Hibs as Kris Commons has been for the Hoops. Keatings admitted that was a compliment, but admitted the onus was now on him to live up to such a billing.
“I saw a few of those comments,” he said, “It’s nice to read that, but it’s up to me to go and do it. That means playing in every game, learning a different position and doing what he’s asking me to do. I need to play well just to stay in the team.
“I feel I can still get goals from there. Last season I got a good few goals from outside the box, which is where I’m likely to be more often, if that’s my position.
“But I also need to get beyond Jason and Holty. It’s something I’m learning, having played it a few times last season. Part of it is playing deeper, doing a more defensive role. It’s something I’m getting used to, enjoying it, although it’s harder work and more running.
“I didn’t get on the ball as much as I would have liked, I had John Rankin on my shoulder for most of the game. But I still managed go get onto the ball for the first goal, I made a run beyond Jason as I was told to do, got my shot away and Jason got a tap-in.
“The fact the manager has made a hole in the team for me gives me confidence that he wants to get me into the team. I’ve been doing as well as I can – all you can ask for is an opportunity. It’s up to me to keep playing well and to stay in his plans.”
If Keatings feels he has taken on a more onerous role then, he revealed, training under Lennon has prepared him and his team-mates for the exacting workload expected of them by their new boss.
He said: “It’s been different, a really hard pre-season. But we’re feeling the benefits already.
“There’s been a lot of running, long-distance running, which is not my thing. I’m more of a sprinter. So it’s been really tough, but we’re feeling fit and feeling stronger. Training has been intense, a lot of possession stuff, crossing and finishing. It’ feels fresh. The manager has come in and put a jag into training.”
The start to last season for Hibs was overshadowed by transfer speculation surrounding midfielder Scott Allan, who eventually moved to Celtic and it has been much the same this time round with Cummings the centre of attention, Hibs having knocked back a bit of more than £1 million for the 21-year-old who promptly showed why he’s attracting such interest with both goals against the Bairns.
But, Keatings insisted, Cummings’ head won’t be turned by transfer talk.
The 24-year-old, who has got his own goals tally into double figures in each of the past three seasons, said: “Jason is a quality player. He went through a sticky patch last season but he’s come out of that and started the season flying.
“There’s no doubt clubs are going to come in with big bids. But the club has rejected that and it’s great for the rest of the boys. We want to keep him here, we know he’s going to score goals, he’s massive for the team going forward this season.
“But it’s not affected him, Jason is wired to the moon. He’s a great boy, down to earth. He didn’t come in and speak about it.
“I think there were a few of the boys mentioned it to him but he wasn’t coming in and joking about it like I thought he would have.
“He’s concentrating on things here. He’s loving it here and he’s just signed his new deal. He’s concentrating on this season and hopefully he goes and bans in 30 goals and helps us get promotion.”