Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 23 October 2014

Time to grow up Kyle Lafferty... Northern Ireland needs you

Kyle Lafferty saw red against Portugal

Call him "reckless and ridiculous" as Michael O'Neill did, but Northern Ireland were in desperate need of Kyle Lafferty in Luxembourg on Tuesday night.

A fully fit, a fully focused and fully functional Kyle Lafferty, that is.

Not the immature, indisciplined, attention seeking look at me acting the clown Kyle Lafferty, that has been all too commonplace since he started his international career seven years ago. You see when Lafferty is on top of his game and has his head right, he is a real asset to the side.

I remember matches in Sweden and Poland when he tortured the opposition scoring excellent goals. There was another at Windsor Park when he grabbed a brace against Georgia and looked a high class leader of the line.

Unfortunately though those types of performances from the tall Fermanagh man have been the exception rather than the norm.

Too often, as he did on Friday against Portugal when he got sent off for that "reckless and ridiculous" lunge and was subsequently suspended for the World Cup qualifier in Luxembourg, he has let his manager, his team-mates and himself down.

Lafferty's statistics for Northern Ireland are alarming.

He has won 36 caps – 27 of those from the start and nine as substitute.

Of the 27 games he has started he has been subbed on 19 occasions, therefore he has only played the full 90 minutes for Northern Ireland EIGHT times.

He has been booked a remarkable TWELVE times and sent off once and has now served FIVE suspensions.

And that's before we go into all the matches he has missed due to injury, the last one against Russia in August.

There are some that would look at those figures and simply wash their hands off him, but O'Neill, or whoever is the Northern Ireland manager over the next, say, five years can't afford to do that quite simply because other options aren't there.

For starters David Healy is no longer in the squad.

Martin Paterson may have scored twice in the last three internationals, Jamie Ward was lively against Russia and Portugal and there is also Billy McKay and Will Grigg, but none of them offer the presence Lafferty has in attack when he is on form.

I know O'Neill talked to Lafferty on Saturday and apparently the player was "apologetic" over his needless dismissal, but when the dust settles the manager needs to fly over to Italy and speak to the Palermo striker again.

A serious conversation must take place with the outcome that Kyle returns to the Northern Ireland squad 100% committed and focused.

That will help his club career too and perhaps make him more settled – in the past two years he has been with three teams, Rangers in Scotland, Sion in Switzerland and now Palermo, travelling around like a footballing nomad.

There is a time for laughs and jokes, but Lafferty can't be a clown all his footballing life otherwise his career will flounder instead of flourish.

He's only 25. There is time for Kyle to turn it around at international level. He's already scored nine goals for his country and there could be many more if he gets his act together.

Grow up Kyle.

It'll be good for you and Northern Ireland.

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