Power plays, release clauses, public rejection: The story of Martin Boyle, Hibs, Aberdeen - and a very probable new Easter Road deal

In a game of word association, Martin Boyle and speed would be an obvious combination.

But, even one of the 28-year-old’s trademark sprints would appear sluggish when compared to the time it took Hibs to respond to Aberdeen’s audacious attempt to lure away their prized winger.

In fact, boomerangs have taken longer to return to their starting point than Dave Cormack’s doomed bid for the Australian international.

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And, instead of parting with Boyle, who they signed on loan from Dundee in January 2015 before making it a permanent switch that summer, Hibs are close to announcing a new deal, designed to galvanise the partnership between club and player.

Martin Boyle (left) has a strong relationship with Hibs manager Jack Ross and and assistant manager John Potter (pictured right). Photo by Ross Parker / SNS Group
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And, far from a kneejerk reaction to the Pittodrie power play, work on the new contract has been ongoing for a couple of months after the pre-cup final revelation that his current agreement, which was signed in August 2020 and ties him to the club until 2023, includes a £500,000 buy-out clause.

Aberdeen tried to capitalise on that to purchase a player who would undoubtedly strengthen their side, while at the same time weaken one of their major rivals.

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Prompted by injuries to Ryan Hedges and Jonny Hayes during the weekend cup humbling by Raith Rovers, it is understood that the Aberdeen board, aware that manager Stephen Glass is an admirer of Boyle, took it upon themselves to sweep in. But, their lack of due diligence has left them dealing with public rejection.

Over-estimating the reach of the £500,000 release clause, they hadn’t checked the small print. Designed to prevent the kind of ballsy move attempted on Monday, that sum only serves as a trigger for clubs out with Scotland, pushing the purchase of Boyle well beyond Aberdeen’s means, even if Glass has been happy to pursue and the player had been keen to force the move through, which in itself seemed unlikely.

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Why would he swap Hibs for Aberdeen? Why would he leave a management team that trusts him implicitly and elicits the best from him?

One of the first names on the team list every game, Boyle is a pivotal man in Jack Ross’ side. An increasingly important player to the Easter Road cause, with gameplans that play to his strengths, he has enough man of the match gin awards to open his own pop-up bar.

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Weighing in with assists and goals, he has found an end product to add to his energy and drive and been rewarded with international football, cup finals, European football and individual awards.

Settled, his wife Rachael is an integral part of the Hibs women’s team and demonstrated her satisfaction with a contract extension last summer.

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That personal and professional satisfaction is something he may well enjoy if he relocated back north but it would be a risk. And an unnecessary one at that.

He might be tempted by a significant step up, whether that be in status, wages or in opportunities but Aberdeen finished below Hibs last term and have been without trophy success longer than the Leith side. Financially there would be little between wages and few managers or assistant managers could replicate the relationship he enjoys with Jack Ross or his bromance with assistant manager John Potter.

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Neither would begrudge him a step up but a sideways step would undoubtedly be met with some resistance.

Less than two weeks ago, Ross was again hailing the man who he knows offers his side real cut and thrust, whether played up top, wide of a front three or bombing up and down the right wing.

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"Martin has been brilliant for me since I came to the club,” said the manager whose arrival in November 2019 coincided with Boyle’s return from long-term injury. “Last season, his numbers for goals and assists were outstanding, and he's started this season exactly the same.”

In total he has scored 54 times and provided 48 assists in his six and a half years with the club, 15 of those goals and 13 of those assists came last season. This season he has started even more brightly, contributing five goals in seven games and a real impetus to Hibs’ early season form.

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"You can always tell with him just how he's feeling, and he's at it at the moment. For me he's as good as anyone in the country in that position, and long may it continue because he's a major asset for us."

The value in having him around is also evident off the pitch, according to Potter. He has addressed his relationship with the ebullient character in the past and recognises that such big, positive dressing room personalities are not easy to come by.

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“He’s lively and you need those types. At the level we are at there can be a lot of ups and downs within a season, even within a couple of weeks, and it helps to have characters like that who can pick you up and have you smiling and laughing. They are so important but they are probably a dying breed. You tend to see a lot of young boys coming through who are good and dedicated but quite robotic and you need all kinds of personalities in a changing room.”

With all that in mind it is understandable why Aberdeen decided to make such a bold move. But, without the advantage of a buy-out clause to force the Leith club’s hand, it was even more predictable that Hibs would be so quick and definitive in their dismissal.

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They know the value of the man they have helped to improve and mould throughout their lengthy and mutually-beneficial association and their intention is still to strengthen the squad not undermine their season’s ambitions.

Which is why they want to discourage any lingering suitors and why that new deal is being rubber-stamped, leaving Ross and the Hibs fans to breathe a sign of relief and Aberdeen to lick their wounds as they look elsewhere.

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