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Euro 2016: Kyle Lafferty is aiming to hit double top

Striker Kyle's dream is to play in Premier League and take country to Euro finals

By Steven Beacom

Published 12/06/2015

Goal king: Kyle Lafferty has rediscovered his best form for Northern Ireland in the Euro 2016 qualifiers
Goal king: Kyle Lafferty has rediscovered his best form for Northern Ireland in the Euro 2016 qualifiers

Northern Ireland hero Kyle Lafferty has revealed his desire to be a Premier League star with Norwich City next season... and hopes that another big performance for his country tomorrow night will help him achieve that dream.

Lafferty has been the star performer for Northern Ireland in the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign scoring five goals in five games, taking Michael O'Neill's team to 12 points and second place in Group F at the half-way stage.

The 27-year-old from Fermanagh has netted against Hungary, the Faroe Islands, Greece and Finland and will be out to complete the set when Romania visit the new-look Windsor Park in a Saturday showdown.

In November, Romania defeated Northern Ireland 2-0 in Bucharest, but Lafferty caused enough problems then to suggest he could be a matchwinner for O'Neill at the weekend.

Only England's Danny Welbeck has scored more goals (six) than Lafferty in the European Championship campaign. The record in Euro qualifiers is 13 held by Northern Ireland great David Healy.

He may not surpass that total, but reaching the finals in France next year will be ample compensation.

In fact Lafferty suggests it won't bother him if he doesn't score again as long as Northern Ireland go all the way.

"If I don't score another goal in this campaign and we reach France I'll take that because it's a team game and everyone wants each other to achieve the maximum," says the former Rangers striker.

His performances for Northern Ireland of late have certainly made many in the game sit up and take notice.

One man Lafferty is eager to impress is Norwich boss Alex Neil.

The Canaries, under Neil's astute leadership, won promotion from the Championship to the Premier League last month and Lafferty is keen to sample the top flight in England for the first time in his career.

The problem is that while Norwich were charging towards the Premier League in the final months of the last campaign, Lafferty was out on loan to Turkish side Caykur Rizespor, whom he helped escape relegation.

Rizespor have suggested they would like to keep the Kesh native on a permanent basis, but you get the impression Lafferty fancies a crack at the Premier League. He is due back with Norwich for pre-season training next month and will know more about his club future then.

"I'll report back to pre-season in early July and I'm hoping to be in the manager's plans," says Lafferty.

"Another good performance against Romania and hopefully another goal or two will put my name in his head.

"I've never played in the Premier League before and I'd love the opportunity to see what it's like and how I do against some of the best players in the world."

On current international form the ex-Burnley ace would take the Premier League by storm.

Prior to this campaign Lafferty was always considered a talented but frustrating performer for his country. When he was good, he was very, very good, such as away in Sweden and Poland, but when he was bad he was awful, too often getting himself needlessly booked and suspended.

In the final home match of the 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign he was red carded having come off the bench against Portugal at Windsor Park.

O'Neill labelled the striker 'stupid' after that 4-2 defeat and there were serious questions raised about Lafferty's future at the highest level.

Thankfully talks between manager and player took place when the latter was told some home truths and look how all parties have benefited.

Lafferty, who won his first cap nine years ago, now has 14 goals in 42 internationals. Just Healy, on 36 strikes, has netted more for Northern Ireland.

The striker hands the credit for his transformation to O'Neill.

He said: "I put it down to the trust and confidence Michael has shown in me. He told me I can play anyone off the park when I'm at my best but that I haven't shown it enough.

"He said to go onto the pitch and give it my all, and that it's going to have a massive say in the how the result goes. He has helped me believe in myself."

The Fermanagh man is due to marry fiancée Vanessa Chung in June next year but both have agreed to change the date should Northern Ireland make it to the Euro 2016 finals.

Beating Romania tomorrow would move O'Neill's team to the top of the table.

"It's the biggest game of the campaign," said Lafferty.

"Romania are top of the table for a reason. They play good football and they are tough to break down but if we play to our maximum ability it'll take us over the finishing line."

The Northern Ireland fans will hope Lafferty delivers against Romania.

In the 12 games he has scored at international level, his country have never lost and in the four competitive matches he has hit the net at Windsor, all have been won by the home side.

Belfast Telegraph

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