Hearts striker Boyce grateful to NI boss O'Neill for helping to launch full-time career

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Northern Ireland striker Liam Boyce has paid credit to his international manager Michael O'Neill for helping to launch his professional career.

The Hearts forward believes the faith shown in him by O'Neill was a key factor in securing his move from Cliftonville to Ross County in 2014.

Boyce moved to Edinburgh in January but is currently back in Belfast during the coroanvirus lockdown.

"Michael's been brilliant," the 28-year-old told Sportsound Extra Time.

"When he started as Northern Ireland manager my contract was slowly running done at Cliftonville. There wasn't really any interest and he picked me.

"Obviously, I was playing well but he just picked me to give me that bit more of a chance as, being an international player makes it more likely for someone to take a gamble on you.

"So, yes, that's probably one of the biggest sort of moments in my career."

O'Neill attended Boyce's Hearts debut against Rangers
O'Neill attended Boyce's Hearts debut against Rangers

Boyce had a year in Germany with Werder Bremen and was in his second spell with the Reds in the Irish Premiership when he made the move back into full-time football with Ross County.

He joined Hearts from Burton Albion and scored the winner against Rangers at Tynecastle on his debut for the club - and celebrated the achievement with O'Neill, who is currently joint manager of Stoke City and Northern Ireland.

"He was actually at my first game against Rangers and he invited myself and my agent out for a meal afterwards," Boyce explained.

"We had a good chat, just talking about me joining Hearts and how it was a good move for me."

It is not yet known what will happen with the current Scottish Premiership season, with Hearts currently bottom of the table, three points behind Hamilton Academical.

Boyce admits confidence is low amongst the players, but insisted they will be determined to avoid relegation if and when the season resumes.

"The pressure is massive. Obviously for a club the size of Hearts, we should not be in this position," he added.

"We just need to keep going. We've had time off, hopefully everyone's calmed down and we'll just give it a good go if the season does continue."

The full Sportsound Extra Time interview with Liam Boyce can be heard on Monday evening at 18.05 BST on BBC Radio Ulster and BBC Sounds.