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I'm fit and I've got the bottle to take on Poles: Kyle Lafferty

By Steven Beacom

Kyle Lafferty has had his say. He is feeling good and claims he is ready to face Poland on Sunday in Northern Ireland's first ever match in the European Championship finals.

Following yesterday's precautionary scan on the groin he twisted in Tuesday's training session, he tweeted: "Results of the scan (followed by a thumbs up emoji). Now back on the pitch and bring on the Poles".

That corresponded with what manager Michael O'Neill had said previously when he stated he had "no concerns" and that his star forward was "fine".

The same message has been coming from the Irish FA.

They are all singing from the same hymn sheet on this one and come Sunday the Northern Ireland supporters will be hoping to be chanting the Fermanagh man's name after a few goals against the Polish.

Lafferty, like his team-mates, will have a rest day today before resuming training tomorrow. O'Neill and the Irish FA medical staff will be interested to see how he reacts to that.

Yesterday, the Norwich City striker worked out on an exercise bike on the balcony as the squad put in a lively session at Saint-Georges-de-Reneins.

In the build-up to the tournament, Lafferty has been very honest in interviews about his career and how new wife Vanessa and O'Neill have helped him come to the fore at international level.

He has also spoken about how, after getting sent off against Portugal in a World Cup qualifier at Windsor Park three years ago, he thought about quitting the Northern Ireland scene, and why his attitude wasn't right in the early days when he played for his country.

On a similar theme he has opened up more about that and why a move to his boyhood club Rangers didn't work out as he had hoped.

"I think I missed 15 or 20 games either through suspension (for Northern Ireland) or not being in the right frame of mind," he said.

"I probably preferred to go away to the sun for two or three days rather than play for my country.

"It should be a special moment and young kids are brought up, and even old men, to give their right arm to play for their country.

"I wasn't fully focused at the start. I was probably given a bit too much at an early age - I got some big moves and played in big games.

"I played for Glasgow Rangers, the team I supported when I was growing up. Glasgow is a strange place. If you don't have someone close to you looking out for you, your head will wander.

"Obviously I was one of those people who loved the opportunity to play for Rangers but didn't quite take it with both hands.

"Now I am fully focused on my football and doing well for Northern Ireland.

"The belief I have when I come away with the national team is unbelievable.

"Michael made me realise how important I am to the team. I know if I do something stupid and give the ball away, my team isn't going to shout at me. They'll believe in me that I'll do something to change the game and obviously if I score it benefits everyone.

The Northern Ireland football squad with manager Michael ONeill before leaving for the Euro Finals.
The Northern Ireland football squad with manager Michael ONeill before leaving for the Euro Finals.
Michael McGovern. Age: 31 Position: Goalkeeper Caps: 10 Goals: 0 Beacom’s verdict: Like a fine wine, Enniskillen man Michael is improving with age. Experience of Euro 2016 will make him even better.
Roy Carroll Age: 38 Position: Goalkeeper Caps: 44 Goals: 0 Beacom’s verdict: I’ve known Roy since he was a kid. Brilliant guy and a top goalkeeper. Now the Windsor penalty king, he is great for team morale.
Alan Mannus Age: 34 Position: Goalkeeper Caps: 8 Goals: 0 Beacom’s verdict: Third choice he may be, but if called upon, as he showed versus Belarus on Friday night, Alan won’t let the side down.
Craig Cathcart Age: 27 Position: Defender Caps: 27 Goals: 2 Beacom’s verdict: Has established himself as a quality Premier League defender and international. Vital to Northern Ireland now.
Jonny Evans Age: 28 Position: Defender Caps: 48 Goals: 1 Beacom’s verdict: Has the ability to have a big tournament and show why Manchester United should never have sold him.
Gareth McAuley Age: 36 Position: Defender Caps: 60 Goals: 7 Beacom’s verdict: Big G has become a huge favourite with the fans and rightly so. Huge influence and dangerous at set-pieces.
Luke McCullough Age: 22 Position: Defender Caps: 5 Goals: 0 Verdict: May not feature in France, but has an important part to play in training and be ready if required. Can learn much from likes of McAuley.
Conor McLaughlin Age: 24 Position: Defender Caps: 17 Goals: 0 Beacom’s verdict: Conor has been magnificent since being a surprise choice in the first Euro qualifier. Will relish shining in France.
Lee Hodson Age: 24 Position: Defender Caps: 15 Goals: 0 Beacom’s verdict: Clearly impressed manager Michael O’Neill in training to make the trip. Steady performer. Could get some game time.
Aaron Hughes Age: 36 Position: Defender Caps: 99 Goals: 1 Beacom’s verdict: Aaron is a Northern Ireland legend. Even when the team struggled he was Mr Consistency. Delighted he is going to the finals.
Paddy McNair Age: 21 Position: Defender Caps: 8 Goals: 0 Beacom’s verdict: Looks like a seasoned international when he plays in the holding midfield role for his country. Could be a key player in France.
Chris Baird Age: 34 Position: Defender Caps: 77 Goals: 0 Beacom’s verdict: Another brilliant servant. His vast experience will be needed on and off the pitch. Reliable when the going gets tough.
Steven Davis Age: 31 Position: Midfielder Caps: 82 Goals: 8 Beacom’s verdict: In my view Steven has become one of Northern Ireland’s greatest ever footballers. What a player. And a superb captain too.
Oliver Norwood Age: 25 Position: Midfielder Caps: 33 Goals: 0 Beacom’s verdict: How this man has grown under Michael O’Neill. Now an outstanding international and so crucial to how the team plays.
Corry Evans Age: 25 Position: Midfielder Caps: 33 Goals: 1 Beacom’s verdict: Works his socks off for the team no matter where he is asked to play. Could be a key substitute in group games.
Jamie Ward Age: 30 Position: Midfielder Caps: 21 Goals: 2 Beacom’s verdict: With his energy, this livewire often sets the tone early on for Northern Ireland. Underestimate him at your peril.
Stuart Dallas Age: 25 Position: Midfielder Caps: 13 Goals: 1 Beacom’s verdict: Like a few in this squad has flourished under the manager. Seems inspired every time he puts on a Northern Ireland shirt.
Niall McGinn Age: 28 Position: Midfielder Caps: 42 Goals: 2 Beacom’s verdict: Showed against Belarus he can make a big impact off the bench. That will be his important role at the Euros.
Shane Ferguson Age: 24 Position: Midfielder Caps: 24 Goals: 1 Beacom’s verdict: Has a lovely left foot and an ability to whip in dangerous crosses. Like a few here will be useful off the bench.
Will Grigg Age: 24 Position: Forward Caps: 8 Goals: 1 Beacom’s verdict: Forget the song for a second, if given the chance this guy can be a hit at Euro 2016 because he is a clinical finisher.
Kyle Lafferty Age: 28 Position: Forward Caps: 50 Goals: 17 Beacom’s verdict: Northern Ireland’s main man in attack. Inspirational and influential, Kyle has what it takes to be a star in France.
Conor Washington Age: 24 Position: Forward Caps: 3 Goals: 2 Beacom’s verdict: Sure to get game time at the finals, he could be a surprise element for the team. Certainly won’t be overawed.
Michael O’Neill Age: 46 Position: Manager Verdict: Michael is the manager with the Midas touch. It will take something special for Northern Ireland to make the knockout stages, but with this man in charge anything is possible.

"They know that if I turn up we can beat anyone really. It's down to the way the lads have made me.

"The last year has been an absolute nightmare for me club-wise, playing so few games for Norwich, but I've enjoyed being with the Northern Ireland squad throughout and know I'm going to get game time.

"Not in a cocky way, but I'm the centre of attention. The more I score, the more I want to do even better.

"We are in France to make people proud of us and to be remembered as a team that went a long way."

The relationship between Lafferty and O'Neill has been key to Northern Ireland's success of late.

It was O'Neill who turned the striker into the player many, who saw him as a kid, thought he could be, inspiring him to net seven times during the qualifying campaign.

O'Neill will again get inside Lafferty's head in this tournament.

The widely travelled forward revealed he even changed the date of his wedding to suit the Northern Ireland boss.

It was originally down for May 28 but went ahead a week earlier.

Lafferty said: "It was worth it. We looked at the dates and chose May 21.

"It's worked out well. Obviously with the season finishing then a week later I got married, and then set off to get prepared for the Euros. Now I want to help Northern Ireland be a big success in France."

Belfast Telegraph