Belfast Telegraph

'King Kyle' Lafferty was once branded unmanageable and a love rat, now he's the toast of Green Army

By Ivan Little

Down Fermanagh way friends and relatives of the new Northern Ireland footballing hero they're calling 'King Kyle' Lafferty are happy that the stories of his scoring on the field have at last replaced the headlines about his scoring off it.

And for the swaggering striker who hit two goals for Northern Ireland against Finland on Sunday to edge them ever closer to Euro 16 in France next summer the new mantle of master marksman is very much the last Laff.

All too often in recent years, he's found himself on the front rather than the sports pages of the tabloids as the tales of his colourful love life turned the red tops blue, particularly in Scotland where he played for his boyhood heroes Rangers for four tempestuous years.

He was branded a love rat after his marriage to a former Miss Scotland Nicola Mimnagh ended and less than a year ago Lafferty was sold by Italian club Palermo because their President, Maurizio Zamparini said he was an 'unmanageable and out-of-control womaniser'.

He is reported to have settled down now with another Miss Scotland hopeful, Vanessa Chung.

But the 10,000 members of the Green and White Army who watched Lafferty's stunning performance against the Finns on Sunday were only interested in what the 6ft 4in tall giant did in the penalty box rather than in the boudoir in much the same way that they gave George Best a by-ball for his exploits.

And Lafferty who was once reluctant to talk to certain sections of the media had journalists eating out of his hand after Sunday's game just as he had done at a news conference in Scotland before a friendly in Glasgow last week.

Lafferty had been nervous about facing reporters but observers said he showed a maturity which had Scottish journalists wondering if he was the same man with whom they'd had so many run-ins at Ibrox.

In the village of Kesh, they've rarely had any doubts about the standing of their famous son who in June 2008 returned to open a new building at the primary school which he attended from 1992 to 1999. Principal Mrs Jill Parkinson who taught Kyle Lafferty in Year 3 at Kesh Primary School said: "We were all very proud of him. And not just for his goals but for the very humble way he spoke after the match, talking of how it was about a team effort and not just about him."

Mrs Parkinson remembered Kyle as a quiet, modest and well-behaved boy and she revealed that he had won a county championship as a cross-country runner as well as playing for the school's seven-a-side teams.

Melanie Grimsley, the Kesh woman who was badly injured as a toddler in a car fire which claimed the life of her sister in Enniskillen in April 1988, was in the year above Lafferty at the school.

"He was very much the sportsman and we're chuffed at what he did at Windsor Park," she said.

Lafferty's first club were NFC Kesh in the Fermanagh and Western League but he was snapped up as a teenage apprentice with English club Burnley for whom he made 83 appearances scoring ten goals.

A number of major clubs including Liverpool and Manchester United were reportedly interested in him but nothing materialised in the big league and he joined Darlington on loan.

However after his return to Turf Moor, Celtic's then manager Gordon Strachan tried to sign him. But Lafferty said that the only club in Glasgow he would join were Rangers and the Ibrox club duly obliged by signing him for £3m in 2008. Lafferty was an instant hit in the light blue jersey but infamously earned the wrath of Rangers boss Walter Smith and the club for pretending that he had been headbutted by Aberdeen player Charlie Mulgrew who was sent off though TV pictures showed there had been no contact. Lafferty joined Swiss club FC Sion in June 2012 before moving to Palermo for that ill-fated spell in Italy, later returning to England for £6m last June with Norwich City who subsequently loaned him to Turkish side Caykur Rizespor where he currently plays.

But while his club career has been pitted with problems, his form with Northern Ireland has been impressive with his 14 goals making him the second highest scorer next to his former team-mate David Healy.

Sources close to the international squad said Lafferty has matured as a player and as a person. One man who knows him well said: "He has made mistakes but he admits he's done some stupid things and he's trying to put his house in order."

Lafferty has said that the current Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill is the best boss he has ever played under.

"He's extrovert but on the inside he's quite shy though that side of his character doesn't come out on the pitch where he is playing the best football of his life," said the Northern Irish insider.

"Let's not beat about the bush - Kyle Lafferty is taking us to our first major finals in 30 years. He is the inspiration behind it all."

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