"Van Dijk just turned to me and said ‘I wouldn’t even bother, I’m just too good’"

'Van Dijk just turned to me and said ‘I wouldn’t even bother, I’m just too good’'

Former St Johnstone striker Graham Cummins describes the demoralising day he was marked by then Celtic centre-half Virgil van Dijk.

In the first of a new series of Irish Examiner soccer podcasts, the Waterford striker discussed his career in Ireland, England, and Scotland, including the afternoon he faced the current Liverpool centre-half.

“He left the day after we played against them. That’s my claim to fame, that’s what pushed the Southampton deal over the line, that he marked me,” Cummins laughed.

“We were told in the dressing room, stop him, rather than him stopping you. Get behind the ball when he gets it, because he’ll run the pitch no bother.

“The first ball, I tried to sprint with him and he just boshed me out of it. I was out of breath and blowing out of backside and he just turned to me and said ‘I wouldn't even bother, I’m just too good.”

Cummins provides an entertaining account of an up and down career at clubs such as Preston, Rochdale and Exeter, including the traumatic period when he was wrongly accused of spot-fixing. But he admits he gradually fell out of love with the game, especially after being left out of the last two FAI Cup final teams, first with Cork City, then Shamrock Rovers.

And he says he refused a medal after Rovers’ final win over Dundalk last season.

“It’s not something that will be going on the CV. It’s not something I’ll take any credit for. I wasn’t involved in the cup final. It’s not something I’d actually say I won. I don’t have an actual medal.

“Stephen Bradley, after the game, was explaining why I wasn’t in the squad, and he was saying we’ll get you a medal. But I don’t really want one.

“I remember going on the pitch after we won and I was embarrassed. Bradley, I thought, was a great guy to be fair. He was very good to me and they probably didn’t get the best out of me with the travelling up and down from Cork.

“I think if you’re giving it everything you stay up there. You don’t travel up and down twice a week. But I’m married and my wife is pregnant. I just wanted to get home

“It went sour for me the cup final the year previous. Having got man of the match in the semi-final, been told I’d be playing the whole way up, doing extra training for it, and then being left out of that final, that hurt.

“That was one of the most disappointing moments of my career, not starting that final. Coming back to Cork, all my family going up and everything, not playing that day, did hurt.

“I carried on to the next year but I was never really in the first team shape. And you just sort of lose a bit. Towards the end, I was just training for the sake of it.”

Cummins admits he considered retirement before Waterford manager Alan Reynolds reignited his enthusiasm for football.

“This year I had a few offers, you can dive into things, I felt I wasn’t going to enjoy it. And I did contemplate throwing in the towel with football.

“I spoke to Rennie and really got the vibe that I will enjoy things again. Sometimes you need an off-season as well to miss football.

“It’s about enjoying it now, the older you get. It can be horrible training every day if you don’t enjoy it.

“And I’m definitely a confidence player. I’ve always been like that. I could score and be on a high but 20 minutes later have two bad touches and it kills me. I’ve learnt a bit more as I've gone along.

“But I’m just really excited. I haven’t had that for a while. I was close to signing with Waterford before joining Rovers and Rennie was very understanding. But you get that vibe off a person that it’s someone you want to deal with again in life.

“I wasn’t desperate to get back. I had a full-time job lined up in insurance. But when I met him I felt that I’d enjoy it again.”

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