After a somewhat nomadic existence Mark Oxley is ready to lay down some roots, newly engaged to long-term girlfriend Chloe and now with a two-year contract at Easter Road.
Not that the goalkeeper needed much persuasion on either front, getting down on bended knee on a beach in Corfu to propose and then sealing a deal with what has become the other love in his life, playing for Hibs.
The 25-year-old arrived in the Capital a year ago as a virtual unknown, on loan for the season from Hull City, the latest staging post in a career which had begun at Rotherham and also encompassed spells at Walsall, Grimsby, Burton and Oldham, but he went on to play all but one of Hibs’ 46 matches.
But if he was unsure of what to expect back then, Oxley admitted the decision to turn his back on offers from elsewhere to stay with the Championship outfit was made all the easier with the news that a number of his team-mates who’d become close friends had also signed on again, all determined to complete the “unfinished business” of taking Hibs back into the top flight.
The big Yorkshireman said: “I’d never been in a position like this when things haven’t been sorted before I have gone away on holiday. There were a few options down south but it was weighing that up against going somewhere new. I loved it up here last year.
“I knew that Hibs were interested towards the end of the season but like every player you need to assess everything, especially at home. Once we knew the offer was concrete this was the club I wanted to be at. After speaking to Chloe we decided this was the best place to progress.
“We’ve loved it up here from day one and now I’ve got these two years it’s something we can both look forward to.
“I only just got back from holiday last Thursday so it’s been hectic sorting stuff out, it’s weeks waiting and it happens all of a sudden, but I’m delighted now.”
Although he holidayed in Greece and later in Portugal, Oxley kept close tabs on what was going on at Easter Road. He said: “I was in contact with a few of the lads asking what they were doing. Fonts [Liam Fontaine] signed last week, Fraser [Fyvie] and Dave [Gray] extended and it made my decision better because if you see those lads are signing on it’s going to be the same group and we know each other.
“We all get on really well. I’m sure they had interest as well because they did well and it speaks volumes that they wanted to stay.”
Martin Boyle also signed a new deal as did Lewis Stevenson, the club’s longest serving player, leaving Hibs, in Oxley’s estimation, far better placed for the coming season than they were 12 months ago when head coach Alan Stubbs faced a race against time to put a squad in place following the sacking of Terry Butcher and the immediate release of 14 players after the club was relegated to the second tier.
“I think that was our downfall going into the season,” admitted Oxley. “In mid-July when I came in the gaffer was trying to get the pieces together whereas he now has more or less solved it, I think.
“You can make excuses but I think in any job when you bring in lots of different people it does take time and we were trying to gel. Now the manager is putting everything in place early doors and that will stand us in good stead. We’ve got unfinished business, the aim is still the same. We are still as disappointed but we are in a better position this season in terms of the group we’ve got. From the day I came in to now it’s a lot better.”
To underline Oxley’s assertion that Hibs lost ground as Stubbs’ hastily put together side found it’s feet, the goalkeeper had to wait until his ninth game to claim his first clean sheet, the 2-0 League Cup win away to Premiership side Ross County proving a turning point in the fortunes of the Hibs players as they went on to clinch second place only to fall at the final hurdle, losng 2-1 on aggregate against Rangers who in turn found Motherwell far too good for them.
Having the same back four in front of him will, Oxley believes, help improve a record of 15 shut-outs while the goalkeeper himself has his eyes firmly fixed on playing in each and every one of Hibs’ matches in the coming season, revealing the temptation of regular first-team football made it easy to turn down some of the offers which had come his way.
Oxley, who had also racked up 43 games for Oldham the previous season, said: “There were options to go into clubs where I would probably be No.2. It’s a big decision. It’s easy for someone to go into a club and be happy sitting on the bench every week on decent money. But I did that in my early years and at 25 I just want to continue playing as I was last year, that was a big factor.
“Two seasons doesn’t sound a lot, but I’ve played between 80 and 90 games which is quite a lot of matches and now I am hoping I will be No.1 again, playing every week. I only missed one game last season when I was injured, I played the most out of all the lads here so the aim is to keep performing, staying injury-free and putting myself in the frame every week to be playing.”
And as content as he’s likely to be on the pitch, Oxley admitted he and Chloe are looking forward to settling down in Scotland. He said: “I proposed on the beach, I was very nervous. She didn’t expect it. We’ve been together for a while now, about seven years, so the pressure was on me. I’m really happy, delighted how everything has turned out.
“It’s been quite a summer.”