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Slimline Liam Boyce can beef up Michael O'Neill's Northern Ireland squad options

By Steven Beacom

Former Cliftonville striker Liam Boyce has become a new lean, mean, scoring machine, inspiring Ross County to avoid the drop from the Scottish Premiership and making Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill sit up and take notice.

Boyce has been in superb form lately and on Monday night struck a hat-trick for Ross County in their vital 3-0 win over St Mirren, moving them six points above the relegation play-off place.

Earlier in the season, following his summer move from Solitude, Boyce was struggling to make the starting line-up but now he has become one of the most influential figures in the side, illustrated by his tasty treble - the first hat-trick by a Ross County player in the top flight of Scottish football - to follow his winning goal against St Johnstone last week.

Reasons for the change? Losing weight and gaining confidence.

"Liam came from part-time football and he had a lot of weight to shift," said County boss Jim McIntyre, whose team are unbeaten in nine games, winning eight of them.

"He's worked really hard to get himself in peak condition. We always knew he could score goals. He's been an integral part of the run and that's four goals in the last two games, which is fantastic. He's playing with belief which is great to see."

Boyce agreed with his boss that his fitness has improved.

"We seem to be much fitter now," said the 24-year-old, such an inspiration when Cliftonville won back to back Irish League titles in 2013 and 2014.

"We're running over the top of teams and pressurising the life out of them."

Boyce has won four caps and was on last summer's South American tour, though has yet to figure for Northern Ireland in the Euro 2016 qualifiers.

His recent scoring exploits, however, have impressed international boss O'Neill, who knows he could do with having in-form goalgetters in his squad in the second half of the Group F campaign to ease the pressure on star striker Kyle Lafferty.

Northern Ireland's next scheduled game is a friendly with Qatar at Gresty Road on May 31 ahead of the vital Euro qualifier at home to Romania in June. Should Boyce continue to score goals until the end of the season, O'Neill is likely to bring him on board.

Belfast Telegraph


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