A week on and Martin Boyle admits he’s still coming to terms with his surprise move to Hibs but, he revealed, it doesn’t come close to the shock of his first appearance at Easter Road.
The on-loan Dundee forward was just 16 when summoned from the bench to make his debut for Montrose in a Scottish Cup tie in the Capital almost five years ago.
And he’ll always remember the crude introduction he received, saying: “The first time I touched the ball Chris Hogg smashed through the back of me as if to say ‘welcome to first-team football’.
“I only got four minutes that day but it’s a moment that will live with me forever as I don’t think there are too many 16-year-olds playing for a Third Division club who could say they made their first-team debut at somewhere like Easter Road. I’d never played in a game like that, a big crowd and a terrific atmosphere.”
Boyle had made the journey as part of a squad then bossed by former Hibs defender Steven Tweed, believing he was simply going along for the ride, never thinking he’d get on the bench, far less the pitch.
He recalled: “I thought I was just there for a bit of experience so I was surprised to find myself named among the substitutes and shocked when the gaffer called me over. I was pretty nervous but we were 4-1 down when I came on for Stephen Nicholas with only a few minutes remaining. I’d imagine it was more to give me a wee taste of things than anything else.
“And despite eventually losing 5-1 and Chris Hogg going through me I actually enjoyed the experience.”
Boyle has been back at Easter Road once since, part of the Dundee side which went down 3-0 to Hibs as the Dens Park outfit headed for relegation two years ago, but now he’s hoping to make it third time lucky tomorrow as Alan Stubbs’ side face Falkirk, who have already defeated the Capital club twice this season.
Admitting Falkirk had been something of a “bogey” team to Dundee last season, the Dark Blues failing to beat the Bairns in four games although they went on to clinch the Championship title, Boyle said: “Falkirk are on a good run but so, too, are we. I don’t think too many people will argue that we should have taken all three points from the derby last weekend.
“Hibs are flying at the moment, a lot of good players and some of the football they’ve played recently has been superb.
“We were in the dressing-room at Dens Park before our match with St Mirren a couple of days after Christmas and Hibs’ match against Rangers was on the television as it was a lunchtime kick-off.
“It was brilliant to watch, the boys could hardly take their eyes off it. For all a 4-0 defeat was something of a shock for Rangers it could have been more than that if you are honest.”
Boyle believes Hibs are now firmly in their stride having struggled in the opening few weeks of the season as Stubbs’ new-look squad came together but, he admitted, they face a tough run of fixtures with Falkirk, Queen of the South and Raith Rovers to play over the course of four weeks – three of their fiercest rivals for a play-off spot – along with second-placed Rangers.
He said: “Hibs had a slow start, the season probably started two months too early for them but now they are playing very good football and picking up the results.
“It’s a tough run of games coming up – I don’t think too many people realise how competitive the Championship is – but, at the same time, it’s a chance to try to stretch our lead over the teams below us and to try to overhaul Rangers.
“They are all very good teams, Queen of the South, for example, have been flying but if you want to make headway it’s important to beat those teams who are in and about you.”
The departure of striker Dominique Malonga, off on international duty as Congo prepare for the Africa Cup of Nations, may have appeared to open the way for a starting place for Boyle tomorrow although Stubbs further strengthened his squad by snapping up striker Franck Dja Djedje on an 18-month deal. But Boyle insisted he’s more than happy to fight for his place.
Having had a taste of the action as a substitute against Hearts only hours after the deal which saw him and Hibs kid Alex Harris swap places, he’s desperate for more, particularly in front of a home crowd.
He said: “I’m still thinking about how quickly it all came about. We’d taken a squad of 25 to Tynecastle but Alan Stubbs hadn’t named the 18 who’d strip for the game. I wasn’t sure if I’d be among them as I’d a bit of a tight calf, but I was delighted when my name was called out and even happier to get a bit of the game.
“It was completely bonkers compared to the Dundee derby I’d played in only a few days before. A few of the players had warned me of the stick we’d get as we went down the touchline to warm up but I never thought it would be that bad, there was all sorts of swear words directed at us.
“The gaffer kept telling me to warm up but as the clock ticked down I was starting to wonder if I’d get on so when he shouted me over I was delighted. I’ve only got six months left on my contract at Dundee so I’m not sure what is happening but I’m looking on this as a chance to get as many games as I can for Hibs and to, hopefully, help them clinch not only second place but promotion.”
And, Boyle revealed, his move has resulted in him finding a home from home as he’s sought digs with his grandmother who lives just outside Dunbar. He said: “I was actually born in Edinburgh but the family moved to Dunbar and then, through my father’s work, on to Aberdeen. My gran has taken me in and looks after me while I’ve also got a lot of family living in the areas so it’s been good to catch up with them.”