Ross County forward Liam Boyce’s dream of representing Northern Ireland at Euro 2016 is over after he was left out of manager Michael O’Neill’s 23-man squad travelling to France next month.
Boyce was County’s leading scorer last season with 20 goals and was a regular in O’Neill’s squad throughout the qualifying campaign.
O’Neill was forced to decide on Boyce or Wigan Athletic’s Will Grigg in attack along with Kyle Lafferty, Conor Washington and former Don Josh Magennis.
Boyce’s 17 goals at the turn of the year looked to have secured his place but Wigan Athletic forward Grigg’s 20-goal tally since January compared to his rival’s return of three ultimately swayed O’Neill by the time he announced his final squad on Saturday.
O’Neill revealed Boyce understood his decision to omit him, while also highlighting the 25-year-old’s disappointing performance in his club’s Scottish League Cup final win against Hibs in March as justification.
O’Neill said: “Liam’s a really good lad and he said he couldn’t really have any complaints. He had a really good first half of the season but, unfortunately, in the second half of the season he didn’t get to the levels he had done.
“He had a hand injury which affected him. I went to see him several times. I also watched him in the League Cup final for Ross County against Hibs and, although they won, he didn’t have one of his better days by his own admission. That’s where you’re wanting players to really step up.
“I’d watched Will Grigg fairly consistently in the second half of the season and he was scoring regularly. When you look at the two players, they are slightly different in the styles of play, but Grigg is a player who is now going into the Championship, has 28 goals behind him this season and is in a really good place.
“Liam will come again. If I’m naming a 27-man squad for the first World Cup qualifier in Czech Republic, Liam will be in that squad.”
Boyce was not the only one to see his Euros dream extinguished as O’Neill also confirmed Daniel Lafferty, Michael Smith, Ben Reeves and former Caley Thistle forward Billy Mckay would miss out, despite all four being called up for last Friday’s friendly with Belarus. Aberdeen midfielder Niall McGinn has been included in the squad.
County manager Jim McIntyre sympathised with Boyce, and felt his cause had not been helped by a broken hand he picked up in December, followed by a recurrence of the injury in March.
McIntyre said: “I’m really disappointed for Liam. He had such a blistering start.
“Unfortunately for him he picked up a couple of hand injuries which hampered him.
“We’ve got some good options up top but he finished the season off well with two goals in his last two games, so I’m really disappointed for him.”