Oli Shaw faces possibly the most daunting task in Scottish football this summer – following in the footsteps of Hibs goal machine Jason Cummings.
The 19-year-old accepts that comparisons with the striker, who was the Easter Road outfit’s top scorer in each of the pat three seasons, are inevitable but Shaw revealed his is not fazed in the slightest.
A prolific scorer himself with Hibs’ Development XI last season, claiming 26 goals in all competitions, Shaw has impressed in the Capital club’s pre-season matches, hitting the net against Dunfermline and Berwick Rangers.
Only the woodwork prevented him making it three in as many matches, the youngster looking on in disbelief as he was denied a winner in Lewis Stevenson’s testimonial match against Sunderland, his shot hitting the bar and then the post with Black Cats goalkeeper Mika beaten all ends up.
“I don’t know how it stayed out,” he sighed, “It was just one of those things. But I am happy to have got my two goals having come into the first-team squad and getting regular game time. Long may it continue.”
Shaw is, of course, well aware Hibs boss Neil Lennon is on the hunt for another new frontman, Cummings having been sold to Nottingham Forest while veteran striker Grant Holt wasn’t offered a new deal and James Keatings opted to move to Dundee United in search of more regular game-time.
Simon Murray has already been drafted in from the Tannadice outfit, but Lennon is currently casting an eye over Welsh internationalist Simon Church.
Shaw, however, is unmoved, adamant that he’s determined to fight his corner, but having spent last season on loan at Stenhousemuir, he conceded he would accept another such move if Lennon deemed it to be in his best interests.
The Scotland Under-19 forward said: “Initially I want to get into the team, this is my club. I am here because I want to play for Hibs. I see the fans in those stands and I want to play in front of them week in, week out.
“Hopefully the gaffer has faith in me. But if he feels the right option is to go on loan then I will go with that – but my initial thought is I want to be here playing.”
Shaw has certainly caught Lennon’s eye, the Hibs boss saying: “He is learning and learning the physical side of the game. Oli certainly has an eye for a goal, he’s a good finisher. It’s very early days, but we are really pleased with the progress he has made over the last year.”
Shaw underlined his determination to force his way into Lennon’s plans by spending his summer holidays working on his fitness, recognising the importance of the coming season for him.
He said: “I went to Tenerife with my girlfriend, but I was in the gym every day, doing runs every day. And when I came back I was out with Paul Green, our sports scientist, running up Arthur’s Seat, doing sprints and in the gym to keep me ticking over because I knew this was going to be a big season for me.
“I knew I had to knuckle down and hopefully get the rewards.”
However, Shaw, like Lennon, believes he made rapid strides last season, playing both in League One and Hibs Under-20 side while learning each day in training from the likes of Cummings, Holt and James Keatings.
Admitting their influence was “massive”, he said: “Grant has played at the highest level. He teaches you things, offers advice. He was a coach with the under-20s and he tells you as it is.
“Jason’s a born goalscorer. He knows where to be and is always in the right place at the right time. So you watch and try to mirror his movement and things like that. It was great to have them here for me.”
While accepting that all eyes will turn on him following Cummings’ departure, Shaw takes a philosophical view, saying: “That’s the pressure of following Jason. I am who I am and I hope to bring as many goals to this club as Jason did. He was obviously the life and soul of the dressing room and he’ll be missed.
“I’m a quiet boy, I just get on with my business.
“Jason’s gone. Being with Hibs gave him that platform to move on to a big club in England.
“Hibs are a massive club, playing here and scoring goals as he did you are going to get noticed. But you have to do it consistently and that’s what he did over three years.
“He got the goals that helped get us promotion and his move. It’s always about the consistency. You can have one good season and then be poor the next – you need to do it every year.”
Shaw clocked up 25 games with Stenhousemuir, scoring seven goals, four of which came in his last three outings, and while he accepts the step from League One to the Premiership is a huge one to take, he’s confident the experience he’s picked up, not only from his season at Ochilview but in Hibs’ pre-season matches, will stand him in good stead.
Six-foot plus but slightly built, Shaw admits dealing with the physicality of opposition centre-halves is a challenge, but one he insists can be overcome by speed of thought.
Joking that Dunfermline stopper Jean-Yves M’Voto – who he faced at East End Park last Thursday is “twice my size” – he said: “You have to be sharp, know when to come short or go long to get in behind, things like that. Being a younger player coming up against big boys, they are obviously going to try to rough you up a bit, but you have to use your head.
“Stenhousemuir was an education, the defenders in League One know the tricks of the trade, the wee nudges and so on. You have to be clever with your movement, but I feel it brought me on a lot and will help me this season.”
So, too, he claimed will the 24 minutes he enjoyed against Sunderland’s John O’Shea, capped more than 100 times for the Republic of Ireland. Shaw said: “It was a tough test playing against someone of his calibre, but one you take in your stride and enjoy as it can only make you a better player.
“Sunday was also the biggest crowd I’d every played in front of. Obviously I’ve been at a packed Easter Road for derbies and games like that so hopefully I can experience some games like that too.”