LIAM BOYCE’S adventures in fatherhood are already inextricably linked with Northern Ireland’s footballing fortunes.
His daughter, Scout, was born on June 12, 2016 — the day Michael O’Neill’s shock troops opened their European Championships campaign against Poland, marking their return to major international finals for the first time since 1982.
Having narrowly missed out on a place in the squad, which would go on to reach the last-16, Boyce’s disappointment was swiftly enveloped by joy at becoming a dad for the first time.
Now, Boyce and his partner, Leoncha, are preparing to welcome their second child into the world and it could see him sit out in the upcoming World Cup qualifier against Italy on March 25.
While he would dearly love to line up against the Azzurri in Parma, followed by a friendly against the U.S., there is only one date with destiny this month as far as the Hearts striker is concerned.
“The games we have are massive but my missus is due in about six days — so it’ll be touch and go for me to be involved,” said Boyce. “I’ll have to wait and see what happens with the squad and then take it a day at a time to see if I can make any of the games.
“I spoke to the gaffer [Ian Baraclough] a couple of months after we found out she was pregnant. We’ve had conversations but we just have to leave it and see what happens, and when the baby decides to come.
“When I had my daughter, it was actually when Euro 2016 was taking place. I didn’t get picked for the Euros and then, on the day of the first game, my daughter was born.
“I’m glad I didn’t experience it then because it would have been a tough decision to come home . . . well, not a tough decision because it was my first child, but you know what I mean!”
Notwithstanding his potential unavailability this time around, Boyce is visibly enthused by a new era under Baraclough, O’Neill’s successor in the Windsor Park hot-seat.
The pain of missing out on this summer’s European Championships have faded and the rebuild has begun, with early indications that Boyce will be a key member of the group.
“He’s a top man,” lauded Boyce. “I came up against him when he was at Motherwell and he always comes over and talks to you after the games. He’s friendly and easy to talk to.
“We obviously didn’t win the play-off final but in the two games after that, I thought we did really well using different formations. I was playing too — so that’s a positive!”
Back to club matters and Hearts precession to promotion, Boyce believes his burgeoning partnership with Armand Gnanduillet is a cause for optimism at Tynecastle.
Jambos boss Robbie Neilson went back to the drawing board following three successive draws and came up with a 4-4-2 diamond against Dundee last weekend, resulting in a slew of good chances and a traditional front-two partnership.
Gnanduillet may still be struggling with Boyce’s Belfast lilt — join the club — but they are on the same wavelength on the pitch ahead of today visit of Ayr United.
“It was good playing beside Armand in a two up-front,” he added. “Anytime I am away with Northern Ireland, and at Ross County, I have played in a two and I do like it.
“That doesn’t happen in football that much now and defenders are probably used to playing against one striker, which means they can cover each other.
“Going with two means you are one-v-one against the defenders and there’s a chance to create something in that moment. That does suit me.”
He added: “Armand is still getting used to the language but he’s now starting to come out of his shell and he’s joining in with all the jokes now — but it’s not Armand I am worrying about. It’s the Scottish boys. I still have to say everything twice and slow down. All I hear is ‘what?’ every time I speak.”