It was to have been the holiday of a lifetime for Martin Boyle’s family, the Hibs winger having forked out a small fortune for them to watch him star for Australia in the Asian Cup.
But as they flew out to Dubai he was flying home, his dream shattered by a knee injury sustained in the Socceroos’ final warm-up match just a few days before the tournament got under way.
Even then, he revealed, he didn’t appreciate the full extent of the problem, believing he might be out for a few weeks – only to be told his season was over.
Alerted to the fact Boyle qualified to play for Australia thanks to his dad Graeme having been born in Sydney, Socceroos coach Graham Arnold had called him up, the 25-year-old cementing his place in his squad with two goals in only his second international match.
However, as the final touches were put to the Aussies’ bid to retain the trophy in a game against Oman, Boyle’s world came falling down.
“It was weird how it happened,” he recalled. “People said I had a knock but I take ten of those a game. I turned quickly and heard a little crunch. I could run in a straight line, it was just turning that was the problem. It felt awkward.
“We sat down, got it scanned and we didn’t realise it was so serious. Sitting on the physios’ table and being told to pull out of the squad because they couldn’t risk it was upsetting. Then I had to see a specialist because it was getting worse.”
Boyle was given even more wretched news on his return to Easter Road.
He said: “It didn’t sink in until I came back and was told I needed an operation. I thought it would just be checked over and I would be out for a few weeks, not months. It was a bit of a disaster.
“I’d booked for seven of my family to go to Dubai and had paid for it all. I had to phone my dad and tell him and he got upset. He didn’t even want to go.
“I assured them it was not often that they would get to see such a nice place. I told them there was no point in wasting the trip. It was a hole in the pocket, but it was just one of those things.
“As I was flying home, they were flying over as they couldn’t cancel. It was a very lonely flight home, although I got upgraded to first class because people were feeling sorry for me.
“So while I was lying on an operating table my family were watching Australia and I wasn’t playing. They would have seen me play in three games, but it was not to be.
“The only thing that has kept my feet on the ground that I was able to spend some quality time with my wife Rachel and my six-month-old daughter Amelia Grace.
“That has been refreshing, coming home and seeing that wee smile on Amelia’s face helped pick me back up again.”
Boyle was well aware that then Hibs boss Neil Lennon was annoyed that along with team-mates Mark Milligan and Jamie Maclaren, reporting for international duty meant the trio would miss the Easter Road club’s final game of 2018, an Edinburgh derby at Tynecastle.
He said: “Neil Lennon wasn’t happy from a Hibs perspective but he told me things happen for a reason.
“Both he and Leeann Dempster let me know I was in best possible hands with the best facilities.”
It has been a long and testing road back to full fitness with still some way to go, but Boyle is making progress. He said: “I have been itching to get back since day one. It has ben a bit frustrating, but I need to respect the rehab and the process.
“I keep saying I will be back ahead of schedule but the physios always bring me back down to earth. You try not to let it affect you, but there have been a few dark days where I have felt low.
“I started on the bike recently, I am squatting and stuff, so I am getting there.”
Boyle will return, of course, to find a new head coach in place, Paul Heckingbottom having taken over following Lennon’s sudden departure, the player admitting he has a lot to thank his old boss for.
He said: “There was nothing much we could do about it, it all happened so abruptly. I was very thankful for what he did for me personally and I’ve exchanged messages with him to thank him for that.
“He really gave me a chance to prove myself, he pushed me every step of the way and I’d like to think I responded.
“However, things happen in football and you need to adapt. We have a new manager now and I’m chomping at the bit to show him what I can do. I’m sure he has seen videos and things, but I want to prove I can fit into his system and get flying again.”
Although Edinburgh-born Boyle’s primary target will be to pull on a green-and-white shirt again, he insisted he remains fully committed to Australia with his eyes on their World Cup qualifying campaign.
He said: “Of course it is a future goal, but I need to take my time at the moment, not rush anything and make sure this knee is steady and ready to go.
“I want to get a strong pre-season and take it from there. Graham Arnold has been in touch from day one, all of the Australian physio staff have been asking how I am progressing.
“He knows how disappointed I was to drop out of the squad. I’m happy what I was doing at that level but I’m a hard-working kid. I’ll keep the head down and come back stronger.
“I’m 100 per cent committed to Australia given the faith they have shown in me. I’ve hopefully shown what I can do and I want to progress even more when I’m back.
“I think with everything that has happened, and the games I have played, I’ve been accepted into the Socceroo family.”
• Martin Boyle was speaking to promote Hibs’ player of the year awards, sponsored by Caledonian Heating and Plumbing. Tickets for the event on Sunday, April 28, at Edinburgh Corn Exchange are on sale now – either online from www.eticketing.co.uk/hibernianfc or via the club’s ticket office.