Hearts striker Liam Boyce reveals why he didn't feature at the end of last season
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The Northern Irishman missed almost all of last season after sustaining the devastating injury in a 3-2 victory over St Johnstone at the end of August. The forward, shortly after putting his side in front, attempted to take possession away from Dan Phillips and got his foot caught in the turf.
Having successfully returned from the injury before while at Burton Albion, Hearts repeatedly expressed confidence he could make it back to the first-team squad before the end of the campaign, but even though he was pictured back in full training, Boyce remained absent from matchday squads as Hearts finished in fourth place.
Now the 32-year-old has admitted he suffered a slight setback on his road to recovery, while he also wanted to remain cautious so he could return at the top of his game.
“I planted my foot and changed direction...you can just feel it straight away. I got a big shiver going up my body,” Boyce told the Daily Record as he recalled suffering the injury.
“It felt like it hit both funny bones and you want to grab something. Your body knows something is wrong. You’re shaking your hands through shock and panic.
“I was holding my knee and I knew right away – then it was about waiting for the results to see the damage.
“Going back to my first cruciate I was young, I just wanted to get back and play and didn’t really know a lot about the percentages that your injury could happen again. Nine months is when that percentage drops off. It’s still a possibility though.
“I probably could have played the last couple of games but then I got a wee hamstring niggle and didn’t want to rush just for 10 minutes of the last game of the season. Hopefully in pre-season I will get game time. It will be more gradual but I’m aiming to be ready right away.”
Boyce also revealed he was able to take his time and make sure the injury was fully healed thanks to a leap of faith from ex-manager Robbie Neilson, who negotiated a one-year contract extension with the experienced forward since his current deal was going to expire this summer.
“The new contract was massive. When you get injured you’re devastated. Then when you realise you’re out of contract and you think about rushing back to play a couple of games to prove yourself again and have a chance of a contract,” said Boyce.
“But Robbie phoned me two weeks before the operation and said ‘we want you to stay at the club and don’t want you having to worry or rush back. We want you to come back as yourself’. I really appreciated that from the club. It helped me settle down and have some security.
“I didn’t want to rush and risk it happening again. It was massive for my family because my daughter’s in school and it’s important to have security and know you’re in the right place.
“All I’ve wanted in football is to feel wanted by my club and my team. It gives you the confidence that they think highly enough of you and believe you’ll come back and be as good a player as you were before.
“It gives you a push and you feel like you owe them something. I just want to get back and show everyone what I can do.”
Boyce will now return to the Hearts team to play for a different man in charge. Robbie Neilson, who had been at the helm since the summer of 2020, lost his job in April after a defeat to St Mirren saw the Tynecastle side slip from third place in the league table with a fifth consecutive loss on the bounce.
He was replaced by Steven Naismith on an interim basis before the former forward was given the role permanently in the summer, albeit under the title of technical director due to the club’s participation in European football and him lacking a Pro-License coaching badge.
Boyce used to start alongside Naismith in the Hearts attack and insists it won’t be much different to play under him.
“He (Naismith) was like a manager when we were playing together anyway,” joked the striker.
“When he never had the ball he’d be telling me what to do with it. He has so much experience and Frankie even more so I’m sure it’ll only be good for us.
“You can see the difference in training. You see a lift when a new manager comes in, the intensity has been high. They have a good balance and all have an input.
“I can’t wait to experience the way we’re going to play. I’ve never played European group stage football so to miss those games last year was tough.
“In your head you become a better player when you’re injured because you’re watching games thinking what you’d do. I was thinking I’d be staying on the ball and keeping things calm — it’s obviously easier said than done.
“But those are the games you think you can help in, and whether you can or not, it hurts to watch because you don’t get to experience it. I just wanted to play European group-stage football — and that’s got to be the aim this year.”