Jason Cummings is sitting at a table next to the Scottish Cup, previewing today’s Hampden semi-final against Dundee United. In typically ebullient form, the livewire Hibs striker can’t help himself from glancing sporadically at the big chunk of silverware before duly asking if it’s the Real McCoy.
It’s a trophy the 20-year-old Edinburgh boy has always dreamed of getting his hands on. He has the chance to do so in just five weeks’ time or, in match terms, as little as 180 minutes.
His boyhood dreams would have revolved around doing it in the colours of Hearts, the club he grew up in the shadow of and who most of his family members still support. However, he has long since shelved any feelings for the Jambos, who released him as a teenager, and is focused only on writing his name into Hibernian folklore. Cummings is visibly excited by the possibility of being the man to fire the winning goal as the Easter Road club finally end their infamous 114-year wait to bring the Scottish Cup back to Leith. “I’ve had a few dreams about winning the Scottish Cup with Hibs, if I’m honest,” he said. “I would love to do it.”
Cummings would never have envisaged uttering these words at the point in which he was being photographed doing a ‘5-1’ hand gesture with a friend inside Tynecastle in the wake of Hearts’ Scottish Cup final triumph over Hibs four years ago. The picture has gone viral on social media in light of Cummings’ subsequent rise to prominence at Easter Road. He has no regrets, however, and believes he has proven his commitment to his current club by scoring a remarkable 46 goals in just 100 games.
“It’s not really a secret that I was brought up a Hearts fan,” he said. “I was brought up in Gorgie and went to Tynecastle High School and most of my family are Hearts fans. I don’t regret it, it’s just the way I was brought up. When I was younger I always thought about playing for Hearts. When they let me go I was thinking ‘what can I do to get one back at them?’ And I thought ‘I’ll come to Hibs and I’ll score four consecutive goals against them in the derby match!’ Now I’d love to win the Scottish Cup with Hibs. It would be funny to take the medal back into my house with my older brothers and put it on their walls.
“They are big Hearts fans and they wouldn’t be happy with that. Every time we play them, they tell me they hope I can score a couple, but Hearts win 3-2. Before the last game, my brother put it up on Twitter that if I score my Xbox is going out the window, so I came back with no Xbox after scoring the winner in the 1-0 game.”
That goal in February, which sunk Hearts in a fifth-round replay, helped Hibs on their way to today’s semi-final. It also sparked joyous scenes at Easter Road and maintained talk of an unlikely treble. In the intervening period, however, things have gone a bit haywire for Hibs. Since the derby, they have won only three out of 12 matches in all competitions. This run has terminated both their League Cup and Championship title prospects while also increasing the likelihood that, from seemingly being genuine contenders to win the league two months ago, they will finish a distant third. Hibs have been widely mocked from outwith during this slump, with the term “Hibsed it” being bandied about by many with reference to their perceived penchant for squandering big opportunities. Cummings insists such chat is easily dismissed.
“I’ve obviously seen ‘Hibsed it’ and that chat it because I am on Twitter,” he said. “It doesn’t bother me and I don’t think it fazes the boys either. You just laugh it off and it doesn’t bother us at all.
“What people on Twitter and the like say doesn’t drive us on at all because it’s coming from people who don’t have a clue what they are talking about. People behind Twitter accounts could either be wee laddies who don’t have a clue or old guys who haven’t really had a career or anything. With things like that you just have to laugh.”
Cummings recognises that Hibs have lost their way in recent months. The concession of a two-goal lead with just four minutes left against ten-man Falkirk on Tuesday was their latest aberration and the striker admits he is as perplexed as anyone with regard to why it is currently going so wrong.
“It’s a question we have been asked regularly in recent weeks, but if we knew then we’d have fixed it,” he said. “We don’t really know what’s happened to us, but it happens to the best teams. All teams can go through phases where they are not really picking up points or getting a wee bit of luck. It’s just unlucky for us that it has come at quite an important time of the season. You just have to ride it out. We know the capability of the boys and we still have a lot to play for to make this a good season.”
A gruelling fixture schedule, caused by prominent involvement in three competitions, has been cited as a factor in Hibs’ form loss. Cummings has been relied on more heavily than most – he has started 39 of Hibs’ 44 matches this season – but insists he still feels fresh as a daisy.
“Not for me,” he said, when asked if fatigue was an issue. “I’m a young boy and I used to play three games a week when I was at boys’ club level. Playing a couple of games a week is nothing for me personally. We have a big squad and a good squad, so we can mix it up, so I don’t think tiredness has played any part.”
He also emphatically dismissed any notion that the January arrival of his strike partner, Anthony Stokes, had played any part in Hibs losing their mojo. The Irishman has scored six goals since returning to Easter Road on loan from Celtic, but has so far failed to set the heather alight in the manner that many had expected.
Cummings, who endured a six-game scoring drought shortly after Stokes arrived, said: “The slump’s nothing to do with Stokesy. We all have to look at ourselves. It’s nothing to do with Stokesy if I haven’t been scoring enough goals for the team. People can say what they want but us playing badly has nothing to do with one guy coming in.
“If anything I have learned a lot from Stokesy and improved my game since he came in. He has taught me a lot. It’s nowt to do with Stokesy. He is one of my good mates off the pitch and we have a laugh all the time. On the pitch, you can tell he is a top player. Some of the things he does are not what a normal player would try. It is the same in training. You can just tell he is a good player. It’s a pleasure to play with someone who has been so far in the game. I’m starting to understand how he plays and we have been linking up better in the past few weeks. It has just taken a few games to get to know how he plays.”
Cummings admits memories of Hampden heartache will drive Hibs on against United today. He was part of the team beaten by Falkirk in the semi-final a year ago and then trooped out of Hampden disconsolate after losing the League Cup final to Ross County just five weeks ago.
“That final is still in my mind and it will be in the minds of all the boys,” he said. “It was a sore one to lose. I have lost the last two times I have been to Hampden and I will give everything to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”