Just five weeks after leaving Hibs, Scott Martin is already enjoying the type of regular top-level game time he craved throughout the final few years of his decade at Easter Road.
The 21-year-old midfielder hopes to start his fourth consecutive Scottish Premiership match when Hamilton Accies, whom he joined at the end of August, visit his high-flying former club this Saturday.
For context, prior to his move to Lanarkshire, Martin had never previously featured in a top-flight fixture and had started only four times for Hibs’ first-team – all in cup competitions – over the last two years of his time with the Edinburgh club.
Although his stint at Easter Road never ignited the way he hoped it would after he was given his debut as a 17-year-old by Alan Stubbs late in a defeat away to Falkirk just short of four years ago, Martin is able to reflect on life at Hibs in a positive light. “I can’t think Hibs enough for the opportunity they gave me,” he told the Evening News. “If someone told me when I was ten, 11 years old, about to sign for Hibs, that I would play in matches with players who had played in the Champions League and stuff like that, I’d have taken it.
“Playing for Hibs’ first team, for me, was a dream come true. I enjoyed every minute of it.”
Ultimately, however, Martin’s path from promising academy boy to first-team regular was blocked off the by the calibre of more established midfielders Hibs were operating with. Spells on loan at Forfar Athletic and Arbroath gave him a taste of regular first-team football in between his sporadic game time for Hibs, and when Hamilton showed an interest this summer, he knew he had to call time on his Easter Road stint.
“I’d been at Hibs for ten years and it came to the point that I knew there were a lot of centre-mids ahead of me,” said Martin, who sensed his opportunity at Hibs fading. “I knew I had to leave at some point. It was a hard decision because I had been there so long and all the boys in the changing room, as well as the staff, had been brilliant with me. In a professional sense, in terms of my career, I had to leave, though.
“I feel as if I was always in limbo in that I wasn’t a 20s player but I wasn’t a first-team regular either. There were a few times when I thought ‘I could get my chance here’, and then something would happen and I wouldn’t get my chance. I just wish I got more of a chance but, at the same time, I was trying to get into one of the top midfields in Scotland. Last season, they had Marvin Bartley, John McGinn, Dylan McGeouch and Scott Allan. There were times I was just happy to get on the bench because of the quality of midfielders they had. Since they went down to the Championship, I think I was a bit unlucky in terms of the quality they brought to the club because the midfielders they’ve had over the past few years have been outstanding.”
Although he was given a glimmer of hope when the much-vaunted triumvirate of Allan, McGeouch and McGinn moved on in the summer, Martin is buoyed by the way things have subsequently panned out. “At the start of this season, I thought I was going to get a chance at Hibs, but sometimes things just don’t work out,” he said. “I’m just looking on it as a blessing in disguise that it didn’t work out because I’m really enjoying myself at Hamilton and I feel as if I’m valued as a player. Wee things like people taking my opinion on board when we’re watching video back make a difference. I did feel valued at Hibs but, at the same time, I felt I was always going to be classed as the young boy.”
Playing regularly in the top flight and working under former Hibs midfielder Guillaume Beuzelin, the Hamilton assistant who worked as a youth coach at Easter Road, is bringing Martin’s game on significantly.
“I feel like I’m getting more confidence with each game I play in terms of trying to dictate play and stuff like that,” he said. “I can’t thank Hamilton enough for looking at me and then signing me. I was quite surprised when I heard they were interested and I’m grateful that they’ve given me an opportunity to play. I’ve really buzzed off working with Boozy. When I was about under-14s at Hibs, he took the younger age group but occasionally he would coach us and even though I was that young, I could tell he was a good coach. I had been told a few stories at Hibs about how good a player he was and he’s someone I feel can really help me improve certain bits of my game.”
Martin has encountered another familiar face at Hamilton in the shape of striker James Keatings, whom he used to share a car with from Glasgow during their time together at Hibs. “Keatsy’s a character,” said Martin. “I signed the day before him. As soon as my signing got announced, he text me saying there was a chance he’d be joining me. As soon as I saw him in the training ground on the Friday, it made the transition a bit easier for me, knowing I had a friendly face I could talk to at any time. I think he’ll be a massive player for us this season. He’s the type of player that can change a game with one kick of the ball. His left foot is magical.”
Martin knows he and his new team-mates face a formidable test against his former club, who are second in the Premiership after winning their last three matches. “I’m looking forward to going back and seeing a few familiar faces,” he said. “It’s one of the toughest games we’ll face this season. Everybody knows how much quality they’ve got. They’ll be wanting to push for one of the top places in the league so it’ll be a really tough game for us.”
Martin, a combative midfielder, believes Accies must be competitive if they are to have a chance on Saturday. “We want to play a bit of football but we know we need to do the nasty side of the game as well,” he said. “As long as we win games, it doesn’t really matter how we play. I enjoy a tackle. You’ve got to stick to what you’re good at it and I think I’m good at tackling. If there’s a 50/50 there, I’ll be trying to win it.”
One man who would nod in agreement with that final sentence is Bartley, a player Martin formed a strong bond with over the past few years. “Marv’s one of my pals – he was a massive influence on me,” said Martin. “He would take me aside and we’d go and do extra work together. If we were doing shape in training, it would always be me or Marv as the sitters. If he was injured and I was playing instead, he would always talk to me and try and put my mind at ease. There were certain times when maybe I was a bit down or whatever, and Marv would be the one who who would pick me up. I can’t thank him enough for how he helped me.”