Jason Cummings aims to surpass 21 goals for Hibs

Jason Cummings rattles off a shot in training as he looks to hone his striker's instinct ahead of the new season. Picture: Eric McCowat

Jason Cummings rattles off a shot in training as he looks to hone his striker's instinct ahead of the new season. Picture: Eric McCowat

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Jason Cummings today fired a chilling warning to opposition defences – I’m coming back stronger, fitter and better than ever.

The teenager’s 21 goals earned him the title of the Championship’s top scorer, a remarkable achievement given it was his first full season as a frontline marksman, but, he revealed, he only sees that tally as a starting point as he looks forward to the new campaign, believing he can pose an even greater threat as Hibs bid to win promotion at the second time of asking.

Speaking to the Evening News at the Capital club’s Spanish training camp in La Manga, Cummings revealed that in addition to being in better shape than ever, he feels his all-round game is slowly changing out of all recognition.

Little more than two years ago he was playing boys’ club football while working as a gardener having been released by Hearts after picking up a serious knee injury, the barrowload of goals he scored for Hutchison Vale convincing Hibs to give him a second chance at the pro game.

Now, though, Cummings insists he’s realised goals alone – as important as they might be – aren’t going to see him realise his full potential.

Joking that as he turns 20 on August 1 he can no longer be regarded as “a teenage sensation”, he said: “At boys’ level it was a case of hanging around up front, poaching, getting all the goals and all the glory.

“Of course scoring goals is always going to be part of my game, but that only takes you so far.

“Look at all the top players, they work their socks off. You can’t just get away with it, you have to work hard for the team, tracking back, putting the tackles in and putting defenders under pressure when they’ve got the ball.

“The gaffer and the coaching staff are always on my back wanting to get the best out of me, to improve my link-up play, moving defenders about and into positions they don’t want to be and so on.

“I’ve come back into the game a bit later than others. Most of the boys have been in football since an early age but it feels as if I’ve lived two lives, working away as a gardener for 18 months, grafting away.

“But I’m still young, I’ve only had one season’s experience and I am learning every day.”

While admitting he’s found the going tough as Stubbs’ players have been put through their paces in the searing heat of Spain, Cummings insisted: “I feel fitter, stronger than I have ever been and you are certainly going to see me running about a lot more next season.

“I feel I am better equipped now to deal with the physical side of the game, of being knocked about by defenders but, to be honest, all the boys are looking much bigger and stronger thanks to the work being put in by Flanny [Craig Flannigan, Hibs head of sports science and fitness], he’s different class.”

Cummings would be the first to admit that as impressive as his 21 goals might have been, that total could easily have been higher – but never short of confidence, he predicts he’ll surpass that achievement in the coming months.

He said: “I was delighted to get more than 20. I try to score as many goals as I can and I want to score a lot more. I think 21 has to be the minimum this season, it has to be. I’ve set myself a high standard, but I’ve got to work towards beating that and I feel I am more than capable of doing that.

“Goals win games and with Dominique Malonga, Farid El Alagui and now James Keatings at the club we’ve certainly got plenty in us. In fact the whole team chipped in last season - even Mark Oxley our goalie.”

However, there were some occasions when he was making news off the pitch as much as he was on it, attracting lurid headlines following a bizarre early-morning muffin throwing episode in a fastfood outlet and a link to a party where a 15-year-old girl was allegedly filmed having sex.

Those episodes brought a warning from Alan Stubbs during Hibs’ training camp in La Manga in May that he had to change his lifestyle although the head coach did accept his protests of innocence.

Nevertheless, Cummings revealed he has taken that on board, admitting he spent more time in Stubbs’ office than perhaps he should, while at the same time grateful for the advice offered from the former Celtic defender.

Admitting he’d been taken aback by some of the attention he attracts on social media, Cummings also accepts that comes with the territory, having a public profile and being widely recognised as he goes about his own business in Edinburgh.

He said: “I was surprised at how much people are interested in what you do in your spare time away from the pitch.

“There are a lot of youngsters who look up to you because of the job you do, you are a role model for them in many ways so you have to set standards for them.

“All the social media stuff, the fact everyone has a camera on their mobile and wants to take photos of you can be a bit intrusive at times, but that’s part and parcel of the job and you just have to accept it.

“However, there’s also some malicious stuff, I feel. There always seem to be people who don’t like the fact you are doing well, who want to see you fall, perhaps they’d don’t have too much going on in their own lives, I don’t know.

“You have to learn to live with it, to try to avoid situations, to develop a sixth sense as to situations developing and getting out of it.”

To that end Stubbs’ input has been invaluable, Cummings pointing out that while he has the support of his family they haven’t had the experience of living in the public eye.

He said: “The manager’s door is always open, you can go and see him anytime, he’s always there to speak to, not just me but all of the boys.

“I was in his room a lot last season, talking about football but also how to conduct myself. I’ve been working a lot on that, how to be more professional and I’ve definitely taken that on board.

“The gaffer lived in the goldfish bowl that is the Old Firm in Glasgow when he played for Celtic. He knows what it is like, so it’s good to get advice from him and the older boys as well.”

Cummings, though, is a larger-than-life character, bubbly and intent on enjoying his life to the full and to that end, he insisted, he is not going to change although football does bring it’s own constraints.

He said: “I am who I am. I am always going to be myself and if people don’t like me for who I am then that’s up to them.

“But probably the fewer times I’m in the manager’s office this season the better. I’m intent on getting my head down, to concentrate on my football, to work my socks off, to score as many goals as I can and enjoy my football.”