Hibs-daft Leigh Griffiths is ready to leave the rest of the SPL regretting their reluctance to give the Scotland Under-21 striker a chance, it was claimed today.
Griffiths, nicknamed “Sparky”, is set to fulfil a lifelong dream when he runs out at Easter Road for Sunday’s crucial clash with Aberdeen having signed a short-term loan deal from English Premier League outfit Wolves. And the Leith-born star will, according to his former youth coach Graeme Robertson, be on a double mission, to lift Colin Calderwood’s side off the bottom of the table and prove those who turned their backs on him wrong.
As a youth coach at Livingston, Robertson watched Griffiths rocket through the ranks at Almondvale to the point where then boss Mark Proctor felt compelled to give him a first team opportunity, his faith rewarded as the lightning-quick hitman notched his first goal at the age of 16.
Robertson today recalled: “He came in to play Under-17 football and was terrific, terrorising defences with his pace, someone who played off-the-cuff, really raw but could score goals.
“He could only have played half-a-dozen games at that level when we decided we had to move him up to the Under-19s where he did exactly the same and Mark had to give him his chance.
“The one thing was that he did have a wee streak in him, he got sent off a couple of times and we had a word with him telling him if he wanted to get to a higher level he had to be able to control his temperament. We worked away at him and he got better.”
The goals continued to come, 19 in 29 matches prompting Dundee to take advantage of Livingston’s perilous financial position to snap him up for a bargain £100,000. Griffiths’ record of a goal virtually every other game was maintained at Dens Park and when the Tayside club was hit once again with money worries, Wolves boss Mick McCarthy stepped to take him from the administrators for a measly £150,000.
Again, no SPL club was willing to take the chance but with Griffiths down the pecking order at Molineux, behind former Hibs striker Steven Fletcher, Kevin Doyle and Sylvan Ebanks-Blake, Calderwood seized the opportunity to lure him to Easter Road for the next four months.
It didn’t take much to persuade him and, according to Robertson, Griffiths will revel in playing for the club he’s supported all his life. Now head of youth development at Stenhousemuir, he said: “Leigh is Hibs daft, he was always banging on about Hibs so he’ll be delighted to get this opportunity.
“If Hibs can start clicking then I think Leigh will do very well. It’s that old thing with strikers, confidence is everything and Leigh’s the sort of player that once he starts scoring it seems as if he cannot stop.
“He’s got goals at every level he’s played and there’s no question he’ll not only want to score for Hibs but show other SPL clubs what they have missed out on.
“He’s still a young player, but he’s picked up that bit of experience and he and Garry O’Connor could prove to be the perfect combination.”