Liam Boyce reveals he is staying at Tynecastle for a big year with Hearts and Northern Ireland

Liam Boyce is convinced his future lies at Hearts.Liam Boyce is convinced his future lies at Hearts.
Liam Boyce is convinced his future lies at Hearts.
Striker knows he has two new managers to impress

With two new managers to impress, a possible promotion tilt and maybe a European Championship on the horizon, Liam Boyce is preparing for a pivotal 12 months. He is determined that staying with Hearts can help realise all of his ambitions.

The Northern Ireland striker introduced himself to new coaches at club and international level in the past week after Hearts appointed Robbie Neilson and Northern Ireland promoted Ian Baraclough. He must endear himself to both in the weeks ahead.

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Rather than look to decamp from Tynecastle Park following relegation, Boyce firmly believes remaining in Edinburgh can serve his Northern Ireland aspirations even from the second tier of Scottish football.

He articulated his thoughts to the Evening News in what will be welcome reading for Hearts supporters. He arrived in January from Burton Albion and quickly became a popular figure, but could not prevent the club sitting bottom when coronavirus brought football to a halt.

A controversial vote ensued to end the season, forcing the Tynecastle club into the Championship and rendering manager Daniel Stendel’s contract invalid. Neilson’s arrival is the start of a rebuilding process which Boyce is eager to be part of.

If Hearts’ legal attempt to overturn relegation is unsuccessful, the 29-year-old will happily set about Championship defences next season in maroon. He does not expect playing in a lower division to affect his international career, provided he ripples nets regularly.

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“I don’t really see it as an issue. When I was at Ross County, which is not a massive club in Scotland, I was scoring goals and playing well. International football goes on form and that’s how you get picked in squads,” he said.

“If I’m scoring goals for Hearts then I’m sure enough that I’ll be getting picked. International football is massive so if I’m playing well I will have to force a way in whatever way I can. For me, that’s by scoring goals.

“It’s massive season coming up. Whatever league we are in with Hearts, we want to be doing well. They have put a lot of faith in me to bring me here and I just want to repay them. I’ve always stuck with the team I’ve been at no matter where I’ve gone in my career.

“I’ve always been like that and I will always give everything to my club. I’ll just keep doing that, it won’t be any different.

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“I also want to get the chance to go to a major tournament with Northern Ireland. It does put more pressure on you to play well, but I’ve experienced not getting picked. That will give me extra motivation to keep doing well.

“I just can’t wait to get back to football. I just want the feeling of being back involved again, whenever that might be.”

Pressed to expand on his commitment to Hearts, with whom he signed a three-and-a-half-year contract in January, Boyce replied: “I’ve always been that way, I don’t know what it is.

“I just want to play somewhere I’m wanted. That’s what everyone wants, isn’t it? You want to feel wanted by your club and know that they will support you to do well. That’s the way I will always be.”

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Neilson can certainly use a player of his calibre regardless which division Hearts find themselves in next season. The new manager is already held in high esteem by the squad.

“We had a Zoom call where he introduced himself to everyone and we had a chat. We have to try and keep ticking over ourselves and he said he would try to get us back in as soon as he can for pre-season, whenever that is,” said Boyce.

“He seems 100 per cent from the way he was speaking. He’s one of those people you automatically have respect for. I remember playing against his Hearts team when I was at Ross County. Last year, watching Dundee United, you could tell they were a solid team and obviously they won the league. Hopefully we can do the same.

“One of the big reasons I came to Hearts was because of how much quality we have. When Daniel was here we had a style of play. That worked unbelievably in the Rangers match when I made my debut and I was thinking: ‘This is unreal.’

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“With the new manager coming in, he will take time to get his methods across. Because of the quality we have in our squad, then once we get our tactics nailed down I think we will be a really good team. That’s one of the reasons I came here in the first place.”

The intention was for Boyce and other January signings to spark a revival and catapult the club up the Premiership table. It did not materialise and there remains a strong air of injustice around Tynecastle because of the enforced relegation.

“The way it happened was a bit unfair,” stated Boyce. “We were winning a game here and there and then losing a couple. You still never know what would have happened. At Ross County, we were bottom going into the split one year but we won every game and finished ninth.

“It’s disappointing Hearts didn’t get that opportunity to turn it round. Whatever happens, you have to take it on the chin. I’ve got full belief in the team we have and I can’t wait to get back to football and play with all the players again. Even just to get back training will be brilliant. That’s what I’m looking forward to.”

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Northern Ireland coaches will monitor events at Tynecastle closely, with Michael Smith, Conor Washington and possibly Bobby Burns also coming into Baraclough’s reckoning.

As well as Nations League ties in the autumn, Northern Ireland will meet the neighbouring Republic in a European Championship play-off final if both nations overcome semi-finals against Bosnia Herzegovina and Slovakia respectively.

Baraclough could be in for the proverbial baptism of fire between now and November. “He introduced himself to us all via a Whatsapp group and I think he is excited about being the Northern Ireland manager,” said Boyce.

“I played against him when he was Motherwell manager and I remember talking to him. I think it’s a good appointment. Hopefully he can get us through these play-offs coming up and help us qualify for the Euros.”

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