Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland's World Cup dream will help me to battle back, says injured Boyce

 

By Steven Beacom

Northern Ireland striker Liam Boyce intends using his World Cup dream as a major motivating factor during his recovery from a "devastating" knee injury which is expected to keep him on the sidelines for around SEVEN months.

Boyce suffered a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee while playing for new club Burton Albion in a pre-season friendly against Shrewsbury on Saturday.

The Championship outfit announced yesterday that the serious injury would force the ex-Cliftonville hero to miss "most of the season".

It's cruel luck for the 26-year-old, who was relishing the opportunity to shine for Burton after joining Nigel Clough's team from Scottish Premiership side Ross County for £500,000 in the summer.

Last term, Boyce had shown his class by heading the goalscoring charts in Scotland's top flight and establishing himself as Northern Ireland's main man in attack. In June he scored his first goal for his country in a 1-0 friendly win over New Zealand before starting in a vital World Cup qualifying victory in Azerbaijan just over a week later.

The talented striker was aiming to build on that success at club and international level but now faces a long, tough road back to fitness.

"When the injury happened it was a bit of a nothing incident," explained Boyce.

"I planted my left leg and heard it pop which was a bad sign but after the game it felt alright and I thought I might be out for just a few weeks.

"I went for the scan and was still hopeful but after I had the scan I was told the bad news and it was devastating to learn that I would be out for so long.

"Last season I did really well with Ross County and was really looking forward to starting the new season with Burton, but unfortunately I'm going to be out to February now."

The injury is a bitter blow to Boyce, his new boss Clough and his new team as well as Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill.

Given his impressive displays against New Zealand and Azerbaijan, Boyce would have been in line to start next month's World Cup qualifiers away to San Marino and at home to the Czech Republic.

He will be out of those games plus the Group C matches versus World Champions Germany and Norway in October and a possible two legged play-off in November which could take Northern Ireland to next year's finals in Russia.

"I scored my first international goal in June and the next game started in a World Cup match against Azerbaijan so to miss out on the rest of the qualifiers is tough," admitted Boyce.

"I just hope the boys can make it to the finals and hopefully I'll come back in time to make it back into the squad for Russia. The thought of that will keep me going through my recovery.

"It's so disappointing for an injury like this to happen now but I will work really hard to get back and my aim is to play at some stage later in the season."

Boyce missed out on the Euro 2016 finals after O'Neill opted to select Will Grigg ahead of him.

Should Burton Albion's record signing regain fitness and show signs of the form he has produced in the past year, it would be extremely difficult for O'Neill not to take him to Russia in 2018 should Northern Ireland qualify.

O'Neill will now be thinking who he will play in attack against San Marino and the Czechs, knowing that with two positive results a play-off spot could be secured.

He will hope Nottingham Forest's Jamie Ward is available after an ankle injury in pre-season while Charlton's Josh Magennis, QPR's Conor Washington and new Hearts forward Kyle Lafferty will also be itching to start up front when the World Cup group matches come around.

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