Hibs' Martin Boyle: I'm ready for my return to top-flight football
Martin Boyle admits his first taste of Premiership football was something of a shock to the system.
Just 19, he was catapulted from playing League Two football with Montrose into a Dundee derby at Tannadice in front of a full house.
Today, though, Boyle insisted he’ll be returning to the top flight of Scottish football a vastly improved player from that raw teenager, one more capable of dealing with the testing season which lies ahead as Hibs move back into the Premiership following a three-year absence.
Plucked from the Gable Endies after scoring 22 goals in 38 games the previous season, Boyle concedes with the benefit of hindsight his move to Dundee five years ago probably came too soon in his career.
He said: “I’d played in front of 500 people and five days later I was at Tannadice for a sell-out Dundee derby. It was a shock to the system but it also made you realise that is where you wanted to be and how hard you have to work to be at that level.”
Boyle made just ten appearances – and only one from the start – before returning to Montrose on loan until the end of the season. He then returned to Dens Park after they’d been relegated to the Championship to establish himself as a first-team regular.
He helped steer Dundee back into the top flight, only for then Dark Blues boss Paul Hartley to ship him out on loan again midway through the following campaign, his career at Dens Park ending as it had begun with defeat at Tannadice.
The following few months, however, proved to be the turning point in Boyle’s career, doing enough to convince head coach Alan Stubbs to offer him a new two year deal.
Stubbs may have left halfway through that contract, but his successor Neil Lennon was equally impressed by the fleet-footed forward, extending his stay at Easter Road until 2019, Boyle one of a raft of player who, having guided Hibs back to the top flight following a three year absence, to win new deals.
As he looked back on his time with Dundee, Boyle, now 24, believes he’s far better prepared now to go head-to-head with Scottish football big guns.
He said: “Barry Smith signed me for Dundee and I had a brief spell in the Premiership, but perhaps he felt I wasn’t ready. I felt I did all right under Paul Hartley, but I really feel I have developed here at Easter Road.
“I’ve been working hard, I think I have improved each year, getting stronger slowly. I’m getting there, but there are still things I know I need to work on in my game which I am doing.”
Boyle scored nine goals for Hibs last season but, he insisted, he didn’t let the fact his contract was coming to an end with the possibility Lennon might take the opportunity of having a fair chunk of the squad he’d inherited the previous summer being in the same situation to take the Capital club in a new direction.
Boyle said: “You can’t really think about it or let it get into your head and affect your game. You just have to go about your business, keep giving your all for the club and yourself, keeping quiet and waiting for the end of the season.
“Thankfully I got a new deal and I’m delighted.”
So too, did the likes of skipper David Gray, Darren McGregor, Lewis Stevenson, Liam Fontaine, Ross Laidlaw and Marvin Bartley, while Israeli goalkeeper Ofir Marciano and Nigerian internationalist Efe Ambrose have returned on permanent deals to join new signings Danny Swanson and Simon Murray although there have, inevitable, been departures, most notably top scorer Jason Cummings, midfielder Fraser Fyvie and veteran striker Grant Holt.
Pointing out that such changes are common at any club, Boyle insisted full focus is simply on preparing for the new season, Lennon’s players getting their first public outing against Dunfermline at East End Park tonight (kick-off 7.45pm).
He said: “It’s been good to have a break as it’s been pretty full on in the last few seasons with play-offs and the Scottish Cup win. It’s nice to get a break, to get away with the family but at the same time you want to keep playing. Last season finished on a high with us taking the title and we want to keep it going.
“We’ve been back a week or so and it’s been tough, but you know when the games start coming the running is coming to an end.
“The boys are looking sharp but it’s all about match fitness. We’ve got tonight, Lewis Stevenson’s testimonial on Sunday and Berwick on Tuesday night, so I’d imagine there will be a bit of rotation to give everyone some game time.
“I wouldn’t imagine a lot will be get the full 90 minutes. A few of the younger boys might get a chance and the manager might want to try a few different things. You can’t read anything into the results, but we still want to win them and put on a show for the fans.”