Belfast Telegraph

Boyce backs local young guns to become shining stars for Northern Ireland


By Graham Luney

Northern Ireland striker Liam Boyce has backed the Irish League's finest talent to hit the big time at club and international level.

Former Cliftonville favourite Boyce, Burton Albion's record signing last summer, should win his 11th cap in tomorrow's friendly against South Korea at Windsor Park and he's excited by the domestic game's emerging talent.

Irish League players Bobby Burns, Mark Sykes, Ciaron Harkin, Gavin Whyte and Jamie McGonigle were included in the Northern Ireland Under-21 squad for European qualifiers against Spain and Iceland.

Ian Baraclough's side lost 5-3 to Spain last night and will now play Iceland on Monday in Coleraine.

Boyce is confident the Danske Bank Premiership's rising stars can follow in his footsteps and also take inspiration from cross channel moves secured by Stuart Dallas and Paul Smyth.

"You've Gavin Whyte scoring all sorts of goals with Crusaders and Mark Sykes has been great at Glenavon," said Boyce.

"Coleraine have some young players too in the under 21s. I watch the Irish League highlights every week to see who is doing well and it's looking promising to see good players coming through. I'm sure if they continue doing what they've been doing they will get a chance."

The Scottish FA pulled out all the stops to lure Michael O'Neill to Hampden Park but his decision to stay put will enhance the career prospects of Northern Ireland's young aces, according to Boyce.

"Keeping Michael O'Neill is probably the best thing that could have happened for Northern Ireland," he added.

Boyce added: “Even for the boys in the Irish League, as that’s the way I was coming to the end of my contract at Cliftonville when Michael picked me to go to South America.

“That gave me the chance and Michael is going to help the boys in any way and try and get them a move.

“You can see how well the boys are doing playing against grown men so that shows they’ve talent and just need someone to take a chance.

“Michael will give them that chance to try and push themselves even further.”

Boyce has taken his fair share of knocks, from an unproductive spell at Werder Bremen to a serious knee injury, but his mental strength shone through at Ross County and he believes today’s young Irish Leagues should dream big.

“They’ve probably got more of a chance than I do of making it in full-time football,” he added.

“When I came back to Cliftonville from Germany then left for Ross County, I was 23-years-old.

“That was my last chance as a player, out of contract and people taking me on a free as a gamble.

“These other guys are young and doing unbelievably against men so clubs will look and ask can they take the next step up.

“Going into full-time training will make them physically dominant and fitter again by doing it every day.”

A strong work ethic married with dedication has shaped Boyce’s career and he believes young players need to have a willingness to learn and sweat for the cause.

“I think you need to be doing something every day,” added the 26-year-old.

“I never really did do that, until I was coming towards the end of my Cliftonville contract and it dawned on me I only have one more chance to make it in full-time football.

“I got a personal trainer and started doing runs or something every single day.

“I thought I was fit but even when I went over after doing that it took me six months at Ross County.

“They put me on more training to get as fit as the rest of the boys.

“You don’t think the gap is that big in terms of full-time fitness but when I first went over it was ridiculous.”

Boyce, who became Burton Albion’s record signing when they picked him up in June last year, was sidelined for months with an anterior cruciate ligament injury he picked up in a pre-season friendly shortly after making his move.

He added: “Aston Villa was my first game back and it was a good game for me to come into.

“I’d done my knee by backing into a centre half and it just popped, but they were more of a possession game, you could ease your way in, you weren’t getting hit from behind or anything.

“A couple of weeks after we were playing and you know how it is — they’re physical, try to intimidate you.

“That’s the biggest difference between England and Scotland, the variety.

“Burton are training at St George’s, England’s training ground, and that’s unbelievable.

“Sometimes I was in the gym and there’s 10 of every machine and I’m the only one in it. It’s like a different level.”

Belfast Telegraph

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