Belfast Telegraph

World Cup 2018

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Paul Smyth is proof that more Irish League players can flourish in full-time football: Boyce

 

By Graham Luney

Liam Boyce believes Paul Smyth's stunning debut for Northern Ireland is another inspirational story that should encourage Irish League players to dream big.

The former Cliftonville hero, who shone at Ross County before becoming Burton Albion's record signing, has argued that the domestic game's finest young talent can prosper in the professional game and Smyth's rapid rise to the big time is a prime example.

The Belfast youngster has now scored on his debut for Queens Park Rangers and Northern Ireland, a fitting reward for his hard work and desire to always improve.

During his days at Linfield, Smyth was a raw teenager who was moulded into a sublime finisher and winger by his manager David Healy and it was entirely appropriate the first goal for his country should be a winner in front of the famous Kop Stand.

Boyce, who replaced Corry Evans in the 62nd minute of Saturday's 2-1 win over South Korea, netted his first Northern Ireland goal in a 1-0 friendly success over New Zealand at Windsor Park in June last year and he can relate to Smyth's elation.

Manager Michael O'Neill believes there is now a clear pathway for younger players to progress their careers and Smyth is showing it can be done, even in double quick time.

"It shows how well he has done because he was playing Irish League football a year ago and the future looks bright for him," said Boyce.

"There are a few boys in the Under-21s who aren't that far away from the first team and it's a big positive for Paul to come in and score the winner.

"It shows again we have good players coming through and Paul, like myself, has moved to England and scored in two of his debuts now. He has given Michael something to think about after doing well for the Under-21s but it's looking even better for him after this goal. It's a dream come true for him.

"I watch the Irish League all the time and I know there are players who can progress.

"They are younger than me and if they get their head down and score goals a chance might come. You need to be ready when the chance comes.

"Paul should be proud and Conor (Washington) did well to hold off a defender and head the ball on to open up the chance. Paul has gambled and it was a good finish."

Boyce, whose career was stalled by a serious knee injury, is building up his strength again and this return to the Northern Ireland side will put a spring in his step.

"I need to catch up on fitness but it's great to be back and win the game at the end of the week," he added.

"We could see how good South Korea were on the ball but we had a game plan and I think we stuck to it well. It's all about taking your chances and we took ours at the right time."

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