Michael O'Neill brings Liam Boyce back into Northern Ireland squad
NORTHERN Ireland manager Michael O’Neill has kept his promise and included Liam Boyce in his squad for the opening World Cup qualifying game with the Czech Republic in Prague on September 4.
After omitting the former Cliftonville striker from his squad for the European Championship in the summer, O’Neill indicated that Boyce would be back for the start of the next campaign and was true to his word.
The 25-year-old Ross County player, who has seven caps, has repaid O’Neill’s faith by scoring five goals in his last two games for the Scottish top-flight side.
“It was a toss of a coin between Will Grigg and Liam for the Euros but we had to reduce the squad to 23 when normally we’d take 25.” said O’Neill at yesterday’s team announcement at Windsor Park.
“Will was the player in form at the time while Liam hadn’t rediscovered his after injury in the latter part of the season. But having had him watched against Kilmarnock at the weekend, he’s clearly back to his best and obviously he could feature against the Czechs.”
Grigg, who went public in making no secret of his frustration at not having played in the Euros, has been omitted from the Prague squad at his own request.
The Wigan Athletic striker preferred not to be included because his partner is expecting a baby around the time of the Czech game and O’Neill bowed to his wishes. Two other notable absentees from the squad that reached the last 16 in France over the summer are Linfield goalkeeper Roy Carroll, who is replaced by Hartlepool’s Trevor Carson, and former captain Aaron Hughes.
Hughes is lacking match-fitness, having not played since the Euros, and O’Neill felt it unnecessary to fly him back from his adopted- home in Australia, where he has been training on his own, before he moves to Kerala, who play in the Indian Premier League, which has yet to start.
Apart from Carson, who has been in the squad before, there are two previously uncapped players in the line-up for the first time, Burton Albion defender Tom Flanagan and Celtic’s, Michael Duffy, who is currently on loan at Dundee.
“Tom is playing regularly in the Championship while Michael has been doing well when out on loan to Alloa and now Dundee,” said O’Neill.
“Both have consistently made themselves available for the U21s and done themselves justice so now they’ve gone on to be selected for the senior team.”
Northern Ireland are in a tough group which also includes world champions Germany, Norway, Azerbaijan and San Marino with only the winner guaranteed a place in the finals in Russia.