Hibs striker James Collins today revealed he is on a double mission – to repay the faith shown in him by the Easter Road club and to force his way into the Republic of Ireland squad.
The 22-year-old attracted the biggest transfer fee of the summer – outwith champions Celtic – as the Capital club forked out a reputed £200,000 to sign him from Swindon Town, but he fell short of that billing as he failed to score in his first five matches in a green and white shirt.
But now he has broken his drought with goals against St Johnstone and St Mirren, Collins believes that continuing to find the target will not escape the attention of caretaker Ireland boss Noel King, whom he knows well from his days with the Republic’s Under-21 side.
Having seen former Hibs hitman Anthony Stokes recalled to the international set-up following a fall-out with former manager Giovanni Trapattoni, Collins sees no reason why playing in the Scottish Premiership should be a barrier to his own ambitions.
He said: “I’ve seen Kevin Thomson get back into the Scotland squad as a Hibs player and Leigh Griffiths picked while playing here, so it’s definitely do-able. You don’t get international recognition if you are not doing well, but this is a massive club, so doing well for Hibs is the main thing. Then, if it comes along, that would be great.
“I know Noel from under-21 level, so hopefully if there are a couple of injuries or whatever, he may look towards someone he has worked with before. You’ve got to do well for your club first and, if I can do that, then I will give him a headache to pick me.”
Noting how Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill has been a frequent visitor to Easter Road – both skipper James McPake and Ryan McGivern have been capped by him – Collins hopes King will not overlook the Scottish game, taking comfort from the fact Celtic star Stokes is now obviously back in the reckoning.
He said: “Anthony is a top, top player – he’s been scoring goals and he deserves his call-up. Scottish football is a league which should not be left out and a league that should be looked at by international managers.
“I don’t know Noel’s plans, but hopefully if I am doing well and the team is doing well, then it might attract people to the games. Why not?”
Collins, however, believes he could not have started to dream of such a scenario had it not been for Hibs splashing out on him and boss Pat Fenlon standing by him as he initially failed to find the net.
The former Aston Villa youth player said: “The fee paid for me is out of my hands. The chairman [Rod Petrie] and the gaffer have put great faith in me by paying money for me which is even more reason why I want to score as many goals as I can to repay them and thank them for that. The gaffer playing me even when I was not scoring shows faith, gives a player confidence and I am really grateful.
“Every striker is under pressure to score goals. That is the job. When I came up here everyone was talking about Leigh, which is understandable because he did so well last season. Any striker would be lying if he said it is not on their mind when they are not scoring. But in the last international break I got away to think about it and came back fresh and that’s when it all started to come into place.”
The surprise arrival of Paul Heffernan, snapped up by Hibs after he was freed by Kilmarnock only hours before the transfer window slammed shut has, in the eyes of many, also proved to be the perfect match for Collins, the pair each scoring twice in successive weeks against St Johnstone and St Mirren,
Collins said: “Paul has come in and been a good signing with a great goal record and great experience. He does his job well for the team, gets a hold of it, works hard for the team and can score a goal as well. To have that can only benefit the team.
“I think it is easy to play with him – he knows his job, just like Rowan Vine. They are experienced players and I think they make your job a lot easier. The goals were always going to come but they happened to arrive when Paul came into the club.
With 11 games on this side of the border under his belt, Collins believes he is getting to grips with the Scottish game, describing each match as a fresh adventure as he faces opposition sides for the first time, claiming the experience of the first round of fixtures will stand him in good stead as the season unfolds.
He said: “At the moment, it’s all shiny and new for me, but it always helps when you know the opposition and their weaknesses. I haven’t played up here before, so it’s maybe the same for the players of other teams. They won’t know what to expect from me, but once you have played against someone once or twice you sort of know what they are about and maybe use that to your advantage.
“I’ve settled in well. I now have my own house, which is great because it’s not always ideal living in a hotel. I’m enjoying my football, the lads and staff have been great. We’ve got a great bunch of lads, we go for a coffee, play a round of golf.”