Prolific Liam Boyce 'can be huge hit at international level'
Michael O'Neill has challenged Liam Boyce to bring his Ross County heroics onto the international stage. After scoring 23 goals in his 34 games for the Staggies this season, the former Cliftonville ace has accumulated a growing list of admirers in Scotland and England and now he has a golden chance to really sparkle in a Northern Ireland jersey.
With Conor Washington getting married and injuries ruling out Jamie Ward and Will Grigg, Boyce has an opportunity to rise to the big occasion.
Boyce, Kyle Lafferty, Josh Magennis and Accrington Stanley's Shay McCartan are the strikers in O'Neill's squad for Friday's home clash with New Zealand and World Cup qualifier in Azerbaijan next month.
But Lafferty's lack of match fitness is another concern for Northern Ireland boss O'Neill, with the striker looking for a new club after his release from Norwich City.
Boyce is O'Neill's most confident and ruthless frontman at the moment and, after missing out on the Euro 2016 finals last summer, the 26-year-old is hungry to take his international career to new heights.
"I've been impressed with Liam for the past three seasons," admitted O'Neill.
"He struggled in big games, which probably went against him when it came to picking the 23 players to go to France, and it was a toss of the coin between him and Will Grigg, but having got over the disappointment of not going he has reacted very well and enjoyed a great season.
"You look at the goals he has scored throughout the season. He has also played slightly deeper on occasions, at times in a wider area.
"We see a lot of him and I've been very impressed and he is now on the radar of nearly every club in Scotland and has a lot of admirers south of the border as well. Given the situation we have it's a big opportunity to whoever comes in and plays for us.
"That's all players can do and they have to react properly. Liam has done that, he has been very good when he has come in. I'd like to have given him more opportunities. It's more difficult for the front players because a lot of the time we are only playing with one frontman, they have to be more patient. It's different for Josh (Magennis) because he plays more in the wide areas and he has had more opportunities."
O'Neill has been impressed with how adaptable and versatile the Belfast man has become and he's not surprised bigger clubs are taking notice.
"Liam offers a lot," he added. "What I like about him is the range of goals he has scored this season, off crosses, going in on goal. People don't think he's the quickest but he is quicker than people give him credit for, he's a great touch and links up well in different formations.
"He's adaptable and a good player, that has never been in doubt. It's about raising your level of performance, and to do that you must be fit and he's as fit as he has ever been. The challenge for him now is to bring that into the international set-up.
"I wouldn't be disrespectful to Ross County by saying he could join a bigger club but he could certainly compete at a higher level."
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