“YOU’VE f*****g changed my life, man.”

The words of Jason Cummings, exhausted and emotional, locked in an embrace with Nick Montgomery on June 3, 2023. A hat-trick in the A-League Grand Final had just propelled underdogs Central Coast Mariners to an incredible 6-1 victory over Melbourne City, their status as championship winners confirmed in the most emphatic fashion.

Two-and-half-years earlier, Cummings was sent home by Dundee for being ‘unfit to train’ after making an appearance at an Open Goal live event at Glasgow’s Hydro the previous evening. The former Hibernian striker later branded those claims ‘a lie’ but, in truth, the optics weren’t great, regardless, and he departed Tayside little over a month later.

Having bounced around aimlessly from club to club for several years, Cummings’ career needed direction. Montgomery was the man to give him that, reigniting his love for the game and setting him on a path that would lead to a World Cup call-up with Australia.

It’s a fascinating case study of the new Hibs head coach’s approach to man-management, and the kind of transformative impact he hopes to bring to Easter Road.

READ MORE: Nick Montgomery keen to bring 'new identity' to Hibs

“It was a chance for Jason to come over and reinvent his career,” said Montgomery. “Jason will be the first person to tell you that he made some silly mistakes and probably his reputation preceded him at times, but it was an opportunity for him.

“When I spoke to him about his ambition, it was to start enjoying football again, number one, and then hopefully go to a World Cup, which he achieved. In 12 months, you could see that he just needed a little bit of love, discipline - he really matured. That relationship with the players is really important, it does not matter whether they are young or senior.

“That honest relationship was something I really enjoyed in my career with certain managers. That’s always going to be my management style, to get the best out of them. I think there are so many players that coaches don’t get the best out of and that’s something I am really focused on, get the best out of everybody, improve the staff, the players. If you can do that then you will improve a lot as a collective.

“Jason sent me plenty of messages when he heard about this! I tried to not give too much away because the reality was it wasn’t all agreed. Jason is someone who sends messages to everybody. He is a good character. 

“He really loves the club. He told me when the interest came that if I get the opportunity it’s a fantastic club. It’s a real family club. He loves Edinburgh and it was full backing from Jason!

“I keep in touch with him a lot. I try to have a good relationship with the players and support them.

“What Jason did for Australian football was fantastic. He is an inspiration to show that sometimes you can be down and out and just need someone to believe in you and give you a bit of love. That’s all Jason needed because I don’t think anyone doubted his ability.

“He is an exceptional player. He has a long way to go and just needs to stay on the right side. I’ll keep sending him messages and make sure he keeps behaving!”

Montgomery would rather not throw the word ‘philosophy’ about, but he does have certain non-negotiables his players will come to familiarise themselves with. He took training for the first time on Monday morning and will have wasted little time informing his new charges that he expects them to graft.

READ MORE: Hibs appoint Nick Montgomery as the club's new manager

Montgomery believes Hibs should be able to ‘challenge anyone’ in the country but, regardless of club stature, knows that’s a right that must be earned. He is taking over a squad with no shortage of talent but one which lacked consistency under Lee Johnson.

Hibs have been commended for casting a wide net in their search for Johnson’s successor, putting their faith in a young, up and coming coach to invigorate their season. And Montgomery is convinced he transfer his blueprint for success from Australia to Scotland.

“Principles are principles and while I’d not like to talk about philosophies, they can be implemented in any league,” he said. “I have experience of Championship football and I played in the Premier League. I have educated myself and watch a lot of football from around the world and I have an assistant in Sergio who has worked all around the world as well.

“I’m very confident that I can implement my principles in the SPFL with Hibs. I would like to challenge everybody in the league and be competitive.

“In terms of where Hibs should be, I think everybody sees Hibs as one of the biggest clubs in Scotland but you have to earn the right, you have to compete and you have to win games of football.  I’m no different from anybody else. I want to win games of football but that is not easy to do so you have to work hard every day to make my teams as competitive as possible and I fell that come the end of a season, every team deserves to be where they are and that’s down to the work that you do in the training down and the results you get.

“Identity is a word that can be used quite fiippantly but when fans turn up or you go away from home, you want people to see that the team has an identity. A very, very basic part of that is non negotiable, it’s that the team works hard and, in terms of formation, if you want to be a team that plays attacking football or defensive football then everybody should be able to see that, and the supporters should be able to see that when they see Hibs play. 

“They should feel that’s their team. They should feel that they are going to turn up for games at the weekend and know that it’s not off the cuff, it’s a style of play that is easy for them to identify everything week, whether that’s home or away.”