Liam Boyce knocking hard on Michael O'Neill's door after "best ever season"
AFTER the best season of his professional career, Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill says striker Liam Boyce is knocking ever harder on the door to his starting line-up.
In a mid-table Ross County side that haven’t pulled up any trees, the former Cliftonville man has hit 20 goals in the Scottish Premiership – just one shy of the league’s top scorer, Celtic’s Scott Sinclair.
Boyce hit the headlines against last weekend when hit four goals in the highlanders’ derby win over Inverness.
Yet despite being a regular in O’Neill’s squads, he has just 8 caps and played just 171 minutes for Northern Ireland since making his debut in 2011.
He was left out of the Euro2016 squad, with Will Grigg travelling instead, but the decision by Norwich to release Kyle Lafferty after a period of inactivity has created a further chink of light for Boyce’s hopes of making an impact at international level.
With trips to Azerbaijan next month and San Marino in September to come ahead of a crunch trio of ties against Czech Republic, Germany and Norway, O’Neill couldn’t help but be impressed by the former Werder Bremen man.
“He’s in the squad all the time, he’s very close. I don’t name him in the squad not to play him.
“Liam has been watched very regularly by myself and Jimmy [Nicholl], obviously, being in Scotland.
“The Scottish lads are maybe watched more than anybody else and that’s maybe to their detriment slightly, because you’ve more chance of seeing them play poorly than maybe some of the other lads.
“For Liam to score 21 goals in a team that’s been in the bottom half of the table most of the year is a phenomenal achievement.
“There’s a huge amount of interest in him, not only from Scotland but England as well.
“This has been his best season because he’s put it together for the whole season, and he’ll come in with us in May and we’ll see how he is. He’s knocking on the door all the time.”
Boyce, who turned 26 last month, signed for Ross County ahead of the 2014 season and has scored 52 goals in 112 appearances across all competitions for the club.
O’Neill took him as part of the touring squad to South America earlier that summer in a bid to help him attract a club across the water and he feels that Boyce still has another level he can reach.
“It’s taken him time. His first six months at Ross County was difficult, he had to get himself to the level of the game, the fitness level.
“Last year, in the second half of the season, he faded a little bit and had an injury. But year on year, there’s been improvement.
“In terms of being in the UK he’s a young player because he’s only had three years of full-time football other than the short spell he had in Germany.”
** Michael O’Neill was speaking at an event to mark the announcement of Electric Ireland as the new lead sponsor of women’s football in Northern Ireland. The partnership aims to boost female participation rates across the province by “breaking down the perceptions that exist around women’s football”.