It was a special moment for Martin Boyle and his Hibs team-mates, gathered together by boss Neil Lennon to be told how happy he’d been with them throughout 2017.
But, admitted the flying winger, it was a matter of making the most of it, everyone well aware that Lennon will be even more demanding when they return to action early in the new year, hopefully refreshed by a winter break during which they’ll enjoy some warm weather training in the Algarve.
The Easter Road outfit go into their final game of the year against Kilmarnock this afternoon already assured of fourth place in the Premiership table as the bells ring in 2018, a ninth successive Edinburgh derby without defeat ensuring Capital rivals Hearts can’t overhaul them as they’d boasted of doing ahead of the midweek clash at Tynecastle.
“It’s been a great year,” reflected Boyle of the 12 months which saw Hibs not only finally return to the top flight of Scottish football but show they were more than capable of making the step up.
“The manager called us in for a team meeting to tell us he’d been delighted with us, the success we’ve had this year and how we are going at the moment.
“That doesn’t happen often, honestly. It was a bit weird actually. It’s always a bit of a worry when you get that shout ‘the gaffer has called a meeting in ten minutes’.
“However, that just makes the pats on the back more special. You don’t want to let him down and it’s even better when you get some kind words.
“He’s been brand new with us. We’ve had our spats over 2017 and sometimes he can go overboard. But that’s just the type of man he is – there’s no-one in our dressing room that’s going to tell him to calm down.”
Boyle, though, knows full well that Lennon will continue to be on his players’ backs as he seeks to build on the success of a year which also saw Hibs reach the semi-finals of both the Scottish and League Cups.
The 24-year-old said: “He’s been great with me and the other boys and I think he has taken this club to new heights. He’s a winner and wants to take the club even higher.
“He’ll be wanting even more after the break. He’ll never let us take our foot off the gas, he’ll be demanding more and more from us.”
Boyle conceded all at Easter Road would have been that bit happier had teenager Oli Shaw’s early strike against Hearts stood, assistant referee Sean Carr unwilling to advise referee Steven McLean his shot had crossed the line although that fact was obvious to most within the Gorgie ground, not to mention the nationwide audience watching live on television.
“It was kind of a weird one,” he confessed. “It obviously wasn’t a defeat but, at the same time, we know it should have been three points. It’s tough for the linesman. You need to put yourself in his shoes with a split-second decision and one look at it – but it’s a big error.”
Like Shaw Boyle, who had supplied the cross which allowed the youngster to cut in front of Hearts defender John Souttar to send the ball crashing off the underside of the bar, had turned away to celebrate what they believed was a seventh-minute opener.
He said: “I was already away celebrating. I just saw it go over the line and Oli celebrating. After that I was away. I saw the lino run away and I thought he’d given the goal. I can’t really describe that feeling.
“But we had to move on, there was still the rest of the game to be played and you can’t really argue about that decision. It [video evidence] would be good up here but the funds are the big issue.
“In this day and age errors like that can’t be allowed to happen, especially in high-profile games. Hopefully one day in the future we can get that sorted.”
Hibs and Hearts will, of course, go head-to-head again immediately after the winter break, the Capital rivals drawn together in the Scottish Cup for the third season in succession and, once more, at Tynecastle.
And it’s a match Boyle insisted all at Easter Road are already relishing, Hibs having come out on top in the two previous seasons having drawn in Gorgie before completing the job on their own turf.
He said of the latest clash: “We still didn’t get beat and we went there as positive as we could. When something like that happens it puts a dampener on the game.
“It was a battle, the pitch wasn’t up to scratch. In terms of atmosphere and the build-up it was great but everything was overshadowed by the goal that wasn’t given. I feel we were the much better team, although Hearts had their own chances and a penalty shout.
“I wouldn’t say we necessarily kept the bragging rights, but we keep ticking along without getting beaten by our rivals.
“Obviously it would have been better to leave with the three points, but now we can look forward to the cup game and we’ll go back to war again.”