'It started as a joke': How two Aussies sparked Boyle's Socceroos call-up
Martin Boyle has enjoyed a remarkable rise from a teenager in the third tier of Scottish football to becoming Socceroo #599 at the age of 25 – and the rapid right-winger is forever grateful for the role of former club teammates Jamie Maclaren and Mark Milligan in securing his international call-up.
Boyle is currently experiencing the COVID-19 lockdown in the Scottish town of Dunbar, outside of Edinburgh, and took some time out to discuss his career to date on the FFA Podcast.
Martin Boyle had famously never stepped foot in Australia before he arrived down under to make his senior international debut against South Korea in September 2018.
The Scottish-born attacker explained how the arrival of Socceroos striker Jamie Maclaren on loan to his club Hibernian in January 2018 proved the catalyst for an unlikely rise to his maiden Socceroos cap.
“I think it just started as a joke,” Boyle recalled. “We were at a winter camp in January when Jamie first joined, and someone mentioned that my Dad was born in Australia.”
Former Socceroos captain Mark Milligan linked up with Hibs during the following summer transfer window, leading to Boyle’s first exchange with Graham Arnold a month later.
“Then Mark Milligan came in and at one stage Arnie was coming over to see the players, and they both mentioned me to him,” he said.
“That’s when Arnie brought me into the office to have a chat and he came and watched me the next day against Kilmarnock.
“I think he liked what he saw, so he just asked if I was keen to join the camp in Dubai and see if I enjoyed it.
“I came along and was very nervous as a Scottish guy going into the unknown!
“But everyone has made me feel welcome from the start and as time went on, I was just really wanting to make my competitive debut.”
Despite speculation in the UK press that Scotland had made a late attempt to secure his allegiance, Boyle revealed that his heart was set on representing the birthplace of his father.
“After playing in a few friendlies (for the Socceroos), people were thinking that I would still represent Scotland,” he said.
“But I told them after that first camp that even if I never played a minute, I would not go and represent any other country.
“I’m forever grateful to Macca and Millsy for mentioning me and Arnie for giving me the opportunity.”
Boyle did not take long to repay Arnold’s faith and win over Australian hearts after making his debut in October 2018.
He describes his two goals and assist during his first start against Lebanon in Sydney a “fairy tale moment.”
“The Lebanon game was something that will stay with me for a long time,” Boyle reflected.
“It was amazing to receive that first start and sharing the pitch with Timmy (Cahill) for 20 minutes in his last match made it even more special.
“My family were so proud and I’m extremely honoured to represent Australia.”
The 26-year-old was cruelly denied an opportunity to represent Australia at the 2019 Asian Cup after suffering a knee injury in the final warm-up game for the tournament.
An injury-interrupted 10-month period followed before he marked his Socceroos return with a bench appearance during Australia’s 1-0 over Jordan in Jeddah last November.
Prior to the current suspension of international football, he appeared set to play a vital role in Australia’s March World Cup Qualifiers after returning to club action with a bang.
Boyle has registered five goals and five assists so far this season, in the process earning the Scottish Premiership’s December Player of the Month accolade.
Boyle’s long road to the international stage
Growing up in the Scottish city of Aberdeen, a young Martin Boyle was well aware of the limited opportunities to make it as a footballer in his home town that only boasted one professional club.
Yet the challenges associated with forging a living out of the sport he loved never fazed him.
“My teachers always asked what do you want to be, and I would say ‘a professional football player’,” he explained.
“I got laughed at for that and was told ‘you need to learn something else in case it doesn't go to plan.’
“But I was just too stubborn. I remember thinking, ‘no, I'm going to be a professional football player and that’s it.’
“That’s the attitude I had – I really connected to football and it’s all I wanted to do.”
After an enjoyable few years playing with his schoolmates, at the age of 16 Boyle first plied his trade on a part-time basis with Montrose in the Scottish third division.
A breakout campaign followed in 2011/12, where 22 goals in 36 league appearances inspired a move to Premiership club Dundee.
It was there that an 18-year-old Boyle endured a few setbacks as he adjusted to the professional game. With a couple of stints out on loan and the club experiencing relegation, he ultimately failed to secure a first team spot.
A loan spell with Championship club Hibernian, where he was faced with the daunting task of six months to “try and impress and get a deal,” concluded with an injury which required surgery and consequently a nervous wait during the off-season.
Fortunately, Boyle was handed a lifeline by Hibs boss Alan Stubbs who was willing to make the loan move permanent, and he has not looked back since.
The club has also since returned to the top-flight of Scottish football and in 2016 won their first Scottish Cup in 114 years – a moment Boyle describes as one of his career highlights.
“I’ve been at Hibs for five years now and have loved every minute of it,” he said.
“I don’t think when I joined I was the complete player I am now.
“As the years have gone on I’ve built up slowly, worked my way into the team and managed to stay there consistently, so long may that continue.”
Boyle’s upbeat mindset has carried him through a challenging time, allowing him to emerge from his injury struggles primed to continue where he left off for club and country once football returns.
“I’m lucky I did make it as a football player. I think that is my greatest achievement,” he reflected.
“I mean, that's all I wanted to achieve. I don't set myself any goals, because I only had one goal and that was to be a professional football player.
“I'm just enjoying every moment of it.”