Liam Boyce believes he is embarking on the “most important summer” of his career.
Boyce was called up by Michael O’Neill for Northern Ireland’s tour of South America on Thursday.
It is a welcome distraction for the Cliftonville striker, whose club future has been thrust under the media spotlight in recent days.
Boyce – who comes out of contract at Solitude at the end of the month – has already been offered a new deal by the Irish Premiership champions.
But with interest from Linfield, Shamrock Rovers and a number of cross-channel clubs, speculation continues to mount over his future.
Boyce continues to harbour hopes of a career in full-time football – wherever that dream may take him.
But first up for the Reds hit-man is linking up with Northern Ireland for the friendlies against Uruguay and Chile, and getting away from the media spotlight.
“It is great to be back in the international fold, and it is a great opportunity for me,” Boyce said.
“It is also a chance to get away from all the speculation about my future. My head has been melted.
“Every day there is someone coming up to me saying I am going here and I am going there, and some of the figures that are being bandied about are ridiculous.
“I am off Twitter and Facebook, but mates have been showing me pictures of some of the rumours – it has been a nightmare.
“So this is a chance to get away and get some solid full-time training under my belt.”
Boyce has been active in the close season, embarking on a rigorous personal training regime that has seen the striker shed half-a-stone.
It is evidence of his focus on securing a full-time career this summer.
“I think that was a factor for Michael calling me up to the squad. When he heard I had been training, and had lost the weight, he thought I was ready,” Boyce added.
“I have lost the weight just by training by myself, because I know I have to be ready if I get a trial at a club. I need to be as fit as I can, and this South America tour will benefit me.
“The climate and training will hopefully get me in a better position for when I return, and then we will see what happens.
“This is probably the biggest summer of my career. Full-time football is the dream, and hopefully someone takes a punt on me.
“If they do, then I have to be as fit as I possibly can.”
Boyce – who was capped under former Northern Ireland boss Nigel Worthington – admits it is good to be back in the international fold.
He featured in the Carling Nations Cup series in Dublin in 2011 before making his competitive debut as a late substitution against Serbia the following year.
“It is great to be drafted back in again,” he said.
“I played in the Carling Nations and then got a few minutes in a European qualifier.
“This is another great opportunity for me under the new manager and I just want to go out there and work hard.
“It is an exciting trip.”
Also drafted in by O’Neill on Thursday was Accrington Stanley striker James Gray.
Gray – son of ex-Northern Ireland striker Phil – wins a first call-up to the senior set-up.
The strike duo have been added to O’Neill’s squad for the games against Uruguay on May 30 and Chile on June 4 after the withdrawals of fellow forwards Martin Paterson and Jamie Ward earlier this week.