Belfast Telegraph

Czech Republic v Northern Ireland: Will Grigg set to be the daddy as door opens for Liam Boyce

By Laure James

Will Grigg will trade fire for a pacifier as the Northern Ireland striker has been given time off to prepare for the arrival of his child.

Announcing his squad yesterday, Michael O'Neill confirmed that the cult star - made famous by his 'Will Grigg's on Fire' chant - will sit out next month's World Cup qualifier against the Czech Republic at his own request.

"Will has not been omitted from the squad. His partner is expecting a baby and he has asked to be excused on this occasion," said Northern Ireland boss O'Neill. "If it hadn't been for that, he would have been in the squad.

"There is a possibility the baby could be born over the international break and he wants to be there, so we have reluctantly granted him permission to be excused this time."

While the Wigan striker's terrace chant became the unofficial song of Euro 2016, adopted by thousands of foreign fans, O'Neill didn't give Grigg any game time in France.

"The publicity during the Euros was not down to his making. Everyone and every country embraced the song, which was great," he said.

"But my decisions were made for the good of the team. Will was very unfortunate not to get game time but I didn't think it was right for the games at the time."

It has left the door wide open for Ross County ace Liam Boyce, who has been recalled into O'Neill's 23-man squad.

Having scored five goals in his last two outings for the Dingwall side, Boyce has enjoyed the perfect start to the Scottish Premiership.

At the turn of last year, Boyce's 17 goals greatly helped his cause to be on the plane to France, yet Grigg's 20-goal feast since January, combined with a wrist injury for the ex-Cliftonville man, left him out in the cold.

"Jimmy Nicholl (Northern Ireland's assistant manager) saw Liam on Saturday when he scored twice and, of course, he scored a hat-trick the previous week," added O'Neill.

"I said at the time that Liam was very unlucky to miss out on a place at the Euros; it was a toss of the coin between them who would go.

"We could only name 23 players in the squad for France; we didn't have the luxury of naming more players, as we normally would for qualifiers.

"Will and Liam had successful seasons but at opposite times. Liam scored a lot of goals before Christmas but then got a hand injury and that curtailed his season.

"Griggsy had a slow start to the season and ended it strongly with a lot of goals. Both of them have started the season in great form."

Ross County boss Jim McIntyre has been full of praise for 25-year-old Boyce.

He said: "Liam has a fantastic picture of the game in his brain. When he does things sharply, he is a handful to play against."

Belfast Telegraph


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