Martin Boyle admits he was humbled to hear Neil Lennon suggest he could use Hibernian’s European campaign as a springboard to the Scotland squad, as he credited his manager with inspiring his progression from fringe player to one of the first names on the team-sheet.
The 25-year-old has been in irrepressible form at the start of this season, tormenting defences at home and abroad with his direct running and dangerous deliveries, prompting Lennon to describe him as one of the best wingers in the country at the moment.
The Hibs head coach also insisted there was ‘no doubt’ Boyle could thrive at a higher level amid suggestions that he could soon catch the eye of Scotland national boss Alex McLeish.
Such plaudits underline the remarkable journey of the former Dundee and Montrose player, from initially arriving on loan at Easter Road in January 2015 as an impact player, but hugely inconsistent, he is now playing the best football of his career.
And Boyle is adamant he has Lennon to thank for his development, having been afforded trust and freedom by the Northern Irishman.
“It’s nice to hear the manager speak about me,” he said, reacting to Lennon’s assessment. “It was a big compliment. He is the one who has given me this opportunity and I don’t want to let him down.
“He has given me the confidence to go out and play, and I feel as though I have really stepped my game up a level.
“Before, I was in and out of the team and coming on as a substitute, but he’s given me the run of games I needed. He’s told me it doesn’t matter if I lose the ball 99 times out of 100, he just wants me to get at people.
“That’s lifted my confidence so I know he’s done an awful lot for me. He gave me a contract extension as well – and I bit his hand off for that!
“I don’t want to break that trust I have with him. He’s given me this platform and I want to keep progressing under him. Don’t get me wrong, I still get a few rollickings off of him and I take them on the chin.
“But he been brilliant for me and the rest of the boys. He’s a real winner and that rubs off on the whole squad.”
One of those afore mentioned ‘rollickings’ may have been dished out following Hibs’ 3-0 defeat against Molde on Thursday which saw them exit the Europa League at the third qualifying stage.
Boyle was typically lively and direct, living up to his billing by opposition manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who picked him out as one of the major threats to his side. However, his finishing left a lot to be desired as he passed up two gilt-edged chances. “It was a frustrating and difficult night - a hard one to take. We had our chances and didn’t take them,” added Boyle.
“We could have done better and I include myself in that.”
Nevertheless, in the cold light of day, one suspects pride will usurp regret as the overriding emotion from their Europa League adventure.
Their triumph over Faroese minnows NSI Runavik was always going to be routine but, with a 12-5 aggregate scoreline, the tie turned into a breathless, bizarre treat for the Hibees. Asteras Tripolis were an altogether different proposition and progressing past the Greeks was a laudable feat. And despite the margin of defeat, Hibs were not outclassed nor embarrassed by a very handy Molde side – they were just unforgivably wasteful.
However, competing in three successive rounds in Europe for the first time since 1972/73, this has been a creditable campaign for Lennon’s men.
“Europe has been brilliant for us as a squad. From where we were two years ago to where we are now is something else,” reflected Boyle. “We are still making steps but we know reaching the third round is a good achievement – even though we firmly believe we could have done better.
“It was great to give the fans a few good trips abroad and they gave us brilliant backing, albeit we feel as though we let them down on Thursday night. Playing in Europe has just given us more hunger to get to this stage again.
“We want to do better this season than we did in the previous campaign. I don’t think we are a million miles away from being able to do that.
“We keep progressing year in and year out and I’m sure we will go on and be a force.”
There has been scarce time to lick their wounds, as Hibs take to the field again at Easter Road this afternoon to welcome Ross County in the last 16 of the Betfred Cup. It will be their ninth competitive fixture in little more than five weeks.
“We’ve had a good start to the season by doing well in Europe and, domestically, we beat Motherwell and had a draw against St Johnstone where we played well,” added Boyle. “They were both tough games and we came through them.
“Now we have County in the Betfred Cup and that’s a competition we want to progress in as well.
“If we recover well then I think the massive games we have already had in Europe will stand us in really good stead.”