Hibs forward Martin Boyle opens up on facing huge decision for Hearts clash as Australia call looms large

Martin Boyle is facing one of the most difficult decisions of his career so far, with a looming club versus country conundrum for the Hibs forward to solve.

Martin Boyles is one of Hibs' key players.
Martin Boyles is one of Hibs' key players.

In an already complicated world due to the coronavirus pandemic, the call to reschedule the Edinburgh derby against Hearts – originally slated for January 3 but pushed back a month due to Covid-19 crowd restrictions – has put Boyle in a very awkward situation.

A key player for Australia, he is expected to spearhead their attack for the Socceroos’ next round of World Cup qualifiers. Graham Arnold’s men currently sit third in Group B of the Asia section, a point behind Japan in second and five off leaders Saudi Arabia. With the top two guaranteed qualification to the finals in Qatar next winter and third place earning a play-off berth, the stakes are high for the Australians. They face Vietnam at home on January 27 before travelling to Oman on February 1.

Unfortunately for Boyle, the game against the Omanis is the same day as Hibs host Hearts at Easter Road. It is one of the most important matches in the club’s calendar and will be new manager Shaun Maloney’s first derby. With the rejigged calendar, Boyle is now set to miss three Hibs matches – Motherwell away on January 26, Livingston at home on January 29 and the clash against Hearts – if he decides to represent Australia.

Boyle is a key player in the Australian set-up.

Boyle admits talks will take place over the next few weeks about who he plays for and suspects the ball is in his court. Making a choice will not be easy for the 28-year-old.

"I was aware of missing the Livingston and Motherwell games, but the fixtures have been changed and it's not been ideal,” said Boyle. “I'll need to sit down with the nation and Hibs and see what the best way forward is. It's all up in the air at the moment – I'll just need to focus on the next game and see what comes.

“I've not been in this position before. I presume it might be in my hands, but if the club want me here to play, then there will be conversations.”

When asked if he has a preference at this stage, Boyle was visibly torn. "I'm really not sure,” he said. “We'll get the conversations out the way. The importance of qualifying for the World Cup is major and obviously the importance of club football and the magnitude of the derby ... I'm sure there will be plenty of talks in the weeks to come."

Boyle expects to learn a lot from new Hibs boss Shaun Maloney.

Boyle has become such a crucial player for Hibs. He has not scored for the club since his hat-trick in the 3-1 Premier Sports Cup victory over Rangers in November but his pace continues to preoccupy opposition defences. He is also laying on the assists, having found Paul Hanlon for a header in the 2-1 final defeat by Celtic last week and then Ryan Porteous for the only goal in a narrow but important win over Aberdeen on Wednesday night, which was new manager Maloney’s first game in charge.

That triumph moved Hibs back into the cinch Premiership’s top six. They sit in fifth place, a point ahead of Boxing Day foes Dundee United, and have an opportunity to go into 2022 under Maloney in a strong position to push for a European spot. Boyle feels the players are already reaping the benefit of Maloney’s input.

"It's been good, there's a lift about the place,” Boyle said. “He's brought in fresh ideas and the boys are buying into it. He's very enthusiastic – we are going to learn a lot from him.

"He's come in and straight away brought his own team of coaches. We've been trying new systems and the way he wants to play. We tried it tonight and parts were really good and other stuff we'll need to work on.”

In stages of the Aberdeen match, Hibs showed alterations to their play. Quick passes, more players in advanced positions, a higher tempo. Boyle explained the mandate: "Keep the width, use full-backs, try to get the ball moving, move the players around the pitch as much as possible, and then that final bit at the top of the pitch where we need to be ruthless and make it count.”

He continued: "It was a lot of information but as you saw against Aberdeen, three points. We are obviously trying to play out a lot and we're taking risks on the ball, which is good. I think we need a bit of bravery, like he says. Get passes out, stretch games, get our attacking players on the ball and make it count. We showed glimpses of it against Aberdeen but I'm sure when we get on the training ground and get a proper week under our belts, I'm sure we can manage to do it.

“I think with the amount of games coming up, he's come in and tried to get fresh ideas to the whole squad rather than speaking to individuals just now, but I'm sure as the weeks go on and he has more time, he'll know exactly what he wants from each player. I'll most likely learn a lot off him.”

Sunday’s match at Tannadice will be played in front of, at most, 500 spectators. It is a situation many managers and players have lamented and Boyle is no different.

"Having no fans there will be a bit strange,” he conceded. “It's not been ideal for everyone. I think they are right in bringing the break forward and we'll get the fans back to enjoy football again. We're still mainly in a pandemic but as a footballer you want to be playing in front of fans.”

Now it’s just a question of whether Hibs fans will have to wait to see their star man a little longer as he mulls over whether Australia or Hibs rules.

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