'I can get her flowers in Tesco or Dunnes Stores, but I can't walk into a shop and get a hat-trick ball for her!'

Cork City striker Graham Cummins has hit the ground running since his return to the the League of Ireland.

Cummins celebrating Monday's win over Shamrock Rovers.
Cummins celebrating Monday's win over Shamrock Rovers.
Image: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

THERE WERE QUESTION marks over whether Graham Cummins could be the reliable goalscorer Cork City needed when he joined the club for a second time.

During his first spell at Turner’s Cross, the striker enjoyed a prolific strike-rate.

In 2010, he won the PFAI First Division Player of the Year after finishing as the league’s joint-top scorer, and followed it up by lifting the individual prize again a season later as they earned promotion.

By the time he left for Preston North End in 2012, Cummins had clocked up 42 goals in 62 games for the Leesiders.

However, six years — of varying success spent in England and Scotland — have passed and some doubted whether the 30-year-old could reproduce his Midas touch in the top flight upon his return.

A promising start to life back in the League of Ireland saw him notch in the President’s Cup victory over Dundalk at Oriel Park, but manager John Caulfield admitted afterwards that the centre forward would have to improve his energy levels.

“Cummins has come in and is probably not used to the work rate that needs to be done here [compared to] St Johnstone,” Caulfield said. “I keep saying it but I think they underestimate our league, the top teams over here would be well able to hold their own in some of the divisions in the UK and in Scotland.

“He needs to know that he needs to work extremely hard and when he did that in the second half he caused a lot of problems. He’s here to score goals and if he does that he has a chance and if he doesn’t, he won’t.”

Graham Cummins and Sean Byrne Cummins and Shelbourne's Sean Byrne back in 2011. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

It’s been an eventful four weeks for Cummins since then. On the opening day of the Premier Division, he provided a goal and an assist before being sent off for an elbow on St Patrick’s Athletic defender Kevin Toner after just 26 minutes.

“It’s a blow for any player to get sent off in any game, but especially on your league debut, and so early on in the game,” Cummins accepts. “Sometimes you might get sent off with ten minutes to go in a game and you’ll say ‘Right, the team can hold out’.

But I could remember being in the dressing room at half-time, thinking to myself and hoping the lads would get through the game. In the end they won the game, I missed the Waterford match and came back against Sligo.”

After serving a one-game suspension, he bagged a hat-trick in his comeback as City claimed a 4-1 win away to the Bit O’Red. Yesterday, Cummins was named SWAI/SSE Airtricity League Player of the Month for February.

“To be fair, if you’d said to me I’d get four goals in the month of February I’d have bitten your hand off,” Cummins says. “The first goal of the season is always the hardest one to get. It just gets you on a roll after that.

Then to get a hat-trick against Sligo, I think my last hat-trick was for Cork against Finn Harps and that was a long time ago. My wife has always said to me that I need to get her a match ball, so it was good to pick up a match ball after the Sligo game.

“That was another little trophy that I got this past month. As a striker it’s always important to be scoring. There’s a lot more to being a striker than just scoring, but ultimately you want to be on the scoresheet as much as you can.

He adds: “I can get her flowers down in Tesco or Dunnes Stores, but I can’t just walk into a shop and get a hat-trick ball for her!

“At the moment I’m still thinking of somewhere to put it [the ball]. My mam is after losing my other match ball, I don’t know what happened to that. I’ll think of somewhere to put it where I can get a good view of it.

“My wife seemed to want it more than me, so I made sure I got it. I don’t think the club will be too happy though because it’s costing them money. It’s a good cost though.”

Hearts v St Johnstone - Ladbrokes Scottish Premiership Celebrating a goal for St Johnstone. Source: Mark Runnacles

Having lined out for Preston, Rochdale, Exeter City and, most recently, St Johnstone, Cummins has gained plenty of experience during his time across the water, but explains that it wasn’t always rosy.

“I did enjoy it,” he says. “Sometimes when you are not playing it can be really tough. I went through a period at the start of this year with St Johnstone because I wasn’t playing as much as I’d like. Sometimes I felt like I was coming into the team and if we’d lose the game, then straight away I was the first name out. It’s hard going into games and getting a rhythm going knowing if we lose one game I’m back out of the team. But I did enjoy it.

I love the fact that I went over and I know exactly what it’s like over there. I would have always regretted had I not gone over.

“It definitely helps when you come back and you have experienced being over there, even in talking to the lads and telling the younger players what to expect if they do have ambitions of going over. You can tell them ‘This is what you need to do’. You can see youth academies over there and you don’t realise how many similar type players there are in these academies.

“It was a really good experience but obviously in the back of my head I was thinking that someday I would come back to Cork. It was always the plan for myself and my wife to come back at some stage. When the opportunity arose, when John came over and spoke to me just before Christmas, the ball started rolling from there and we felt it was the right thing to do.”

Caulfield has done an outstanding job at Cork since taking over in 2013, transforming them into the top club in the country by winning the league and FAI Cup double last season. His presence as manager was also a major factor for Cummins.

“When he came in, the club was a mid-table team,” he says. “He just upped that level straight away. I think John has admitted himself, he got the club to a certain level and he needed it to advance again if they wanted to win leagues.

“He needed more professionalism again brought into the club to win trophies and he certainly got that. He always placed high demands on not just the players but on the club itself to provide the best for the players, and that’s what you want.

“You want your manager to be saying ‘I need the best for the players’. After the Dundalk game, we stayed up the night after so we’d be ready for Shamrock Rovers. The lads weren’t travelling back down the road again in the middle of the night. It’s little things like that. He knows himself. I know he’s been retired a little while, but he knows you need certain things.

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“He listens to lads as well and asks their opinion of what they need. The club trusts him as well. There is a great relationship there. As long as there is success, the club will do everything possible to help him. It’s the same for me, I look at him and say, ‘He’s going to bring me success in my career’. That was one of the main reasons why I came back.”

Cork City manager John Caulfield City boss Caulfield. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

City, level at the top of the Premier Division with Waterford on 12 points after five matches, travel to Markets Field for this evening’s league meeting with Limerick. Cork native Cummins may still have some way to go to fill the void left by Sean Maguire, but the signs are encouraging that he can shoulder the pressure of leading the line for the reigning champions this term.

“I think it’s easy to settle back in,” he explains. “Some lads come back from England who have never played League of Ireland and it might be difficult for them to adjust. But I know what the league is about, I know what the club is about and I know what the area is about.

“It doesn’t take much time to adjust. It might have been different had I been moving back to a different area or county. I know what it was like moving around the country in England and Scotland – it takes time finding out even new restaurants, mechanics, little things like that. I didn’t have to worry about things like that. I knew exactly what I was coming back to.

I didn’t know exactly what I was coming back to in terms of the club, because obviously the club changed so much in six years. It actually shocked me how more advanced the club was than I thought it would be. I knew they had upped their game a lot but it was far more impressive than I’d expected. I am really enthusiastic going into work every day.

“You’re not complaining about stuff. I think Cork is more professional than many clubs I played with when I was in the UK – and that’s no disrespect to any of those clubs. I just think Cork said, ‘This is the way things need to be run’. Every detail is looked after. Nutrition is very important and they really look after you here. The older you get, the more professional you need things to be.

“You need everything to be right so your body can cope with the demands of the game. That’s vital to me because I want to keep playing as long as I can. It’s just really good to be home.”

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