Hibs fan and ex-Easter Road defender has no regrets as he explains love for everything Bonnyrigg Rose
There’s been much to anticipate for Bonnyrigg Rose around their introduction to SPFL football, but it doesn’t get much bigger than a visit from local giants Hibs in just the second match of their new adventure.
Experiences like the one coming to New Dundas Park this Sunday was an attraction to Bonnyrigg when they decided to leave behind the Juniors and join the pyramid structure. By winning last season's Lowland League, which then enabled them to gain promotion with a couple of play-off victories against Fraserburgh and Cowdenbeath, they qualified for the Premier Sports (League) Cup for the first time. As fate would have it, they were handed an early blockbuster meeting with the top-flight side situated just nine miles to the north.
Preparation could not have gone much different for the two sides heading into Sunday’s battle. Twenty-four hours after Hibs lost 1-0 to Falkirk in their second group match, Bonnyrigg made the ideal start to life as an SPFL side with a 2-1 victory away at Clyde, a club occupying the same division as the side who gave Hibs a bloodied nose and red face.
What was particularly impressive about the midweek win by Robbie Horn’s men was the manner in which they defended so robustly in the second period. Clyde had the majority of possession, but other than a Jordan Allan effort shortly after the break, didn’t create a real opportunity for the remainder of the game as the Leagie Two visitors looked surprisingly comfortable.
Ideal preparation it may be, but for someone who knows Hibs as well as anyone in the Bonnyrigg dressing room, there’s no illusions it’s going to anything other than an incredibly tough, long 90 minutes this coming weekend.
“I think the defence is our strength, it's been our strength for years, to be honest. It's been our success ever since I've been at the club,” said centre-back Neil Martyniuk. “We'll certainly need to be good at defending on Sunday! It’s obviously a different test. It's a free hit for us. We'll probably not even be expected to have any shots on target, I'd guess. Listen, we're just going to go there with the right attitude and you never know.
“I was speaking to a few people about the Hibs result earlier. Obviously because they got beat on Falkirk I'm wondering if they'll go full strength, while the manager will be saying 'try and take five, six off them'. But it'll be a great experience for us. I'm sure it'll be a great experience for the community and anyone from Bonnyrigg who is coming to watch. It's not very often that Hibs come to town.”
Martyniuk is a boyhood Hibs supporter and former youth team player. Though he never tasted the glory of pulling on the famous green and white to play in front of 20,000 roaring fans at Easter Road, he still lived a dream that many kids would kill for.
“I was there for five years with two years full-time,” he told the Evening News. “It was brilliant, I loved it. The facilities were magnificent, the coaches, the people, it was just a great environment. It was probably the best two years of my life to be honest. I was just a young boy and growing up you want to try and be a professional footballer. Looking back, obviously, it doesn't work out for a lot of boys, but I have no regrets whatsoever. It was a great time in my life.
“I was sent out on loan [to Berwick Rangers] but I don't think I was ever in any Hibs squads. It was the season where they'd just been relegated to the Championship. They were going with experienced boys. I think they brought in Liam Fontaine. I never really got a chance but I probably wasn't ready to be honest, looking back.”
He would depart Leith in the summer of 2015, firstly going to St Johnstone and then Edinburgh City (now FC Edinburgh) but he failed to establish at home at either. That wouldn’t come until two years later in 2017 – ironically enough, just a few months after his new club were defeated 8-1 by his old one in the Scottish Cup – when he settled with Bonnyrigg.
“I was gutted to leave. It's never nice when a manager tells you you're not getting another contract. It's part of football, it's part of life. You've just got to bounce back and get on with it,” he said.
"I'm here at Bonnyrigg. It's maybe not the ultimate heights of playing in the Premiership for Hibs, but I absolutely love it here. It's my sixth season and I'm so happy. I feel at home, the fans are brilliant. The people within the club – the chairman, the manager, the committee, everyone involved – every single one of them are brilliant.
“It's been great. It's fairytale stuff. When I signed we were in the Juniors. Then we moved across to the East of Scotland then to the Lowland League and now the SPFL. I know that was the dreams and aspirations of the club, but to actually be here it is pretty special to be honest. And hopefully, long may that journey continue.”
So will Sunday be an occasion where his Hibs-daft mates will be conflicted trying to pick between supporting their pal or cheering on their typical favourites?
“I actually asked a lot of my friends if they're coming to the game but they've got tickets for the Scottish Open on the Sunday,” Martyniuk laughed. “So they're bumping the chance to see me playing against Hibs to go and watch Tiger Woods at St Andrews.”