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Kyle Lafferty: I'm now a better person and better striker

New wife Vanessa and NI boss inspire Windsor hero

By Steven Beacom

Kyle Lafferty has spoken about how new wife Vanessa has helped make him a better person and a better striker.

And as he and the Northern Ireland squad prepared to leave Belfast today in preparation for the Euro 2016 finals, the striker also paid tribute to the influence of manager Michael O'Neill and skipper Steven Davis.

Lafferty is asked to do numerous interviews nowadays and every time he answers the questions with honesty and a new found maturity. He remains the fun character he has always been around his team-mates, but relishes the responsibility of being one of Northern Ireland's key figures on the pitch with a ball at his feet or off it when a microphone is placed in front of his face.

He rarely disappoints.

After winning his 50th cap for his country on Friday and scoring against Belarus in a 3-0 friendly win at Windsor Park, Lafferty spoke about three years ago when he considered quitting international football and the part Vanessa, who he married earlier this month, has played in turning his life and career around.

He will go to the Euro finals in France with Northern Ireland fans pinning their hopes on him adding to his 17 international goals and firing the country into the knockout stages.

"I think Vanessa has played a massive part in this. It is no coincidence that I started to score goals being with Vanessa. That says it all. I've scored more goals in the last nine or 10 games than I did in the last eight years and that speaks for itself," said the 28-year-old from Kesh.

"She's incredible. I've always praised Michael (O'Neill) for turning it around for me but they both deserve credit."

Thoughts of leaving the international scene entered Lafferty's head after being sent off in a 4-2 loss at home to Portugal in a World Cup qualifier in 2013. He was heavily criticised by O'Neill for being 'reckless' as well as the media and the supporters.

The Norwich forward said: "I didn't think I'd see 50 caps. To be honest, back then I wasn't even thinking about the next cap.

"I read stuff in the papers, I also read some stuff fans were saying that I should never wear the green shirt again and it hurt.

"I did think about chucking it but I spoke to Michael and players like Davo (Steven Davis) and they basically talked me out of it.

"They made me realise I was too young to quit and I'm never going to be a person to hide behind others. I'm big enough to come out and take the blame on my shoulders and that is what I've done.

"I did enjoy going out and proving everybody wrong about me.

"To score my 17th goal in 50 caps just makes me even more hungry and there's a record there to go for. I'm not saying I will overtake David Healy (Northern Ireland's record goalscorer on 36 goals) but hopefully it's something I'll go close to.

"My strike-rate is good but if my head was where it is now seven years ago, I think I'd be much closer to it. I'm looking towards the future now and if I keep going the way I am it can be a good future for me and Northern Ireland.

"I regret some things but it is a part of growing up. I've had good people around me and I've had bad people. But now I can only see myself with the good people who make me a better person.

"I know my family are every bit as proud of me as I am."

Lafferty was overjoyed to score on Friday and believes it bodes well for the coming weeks in France.

He said: "I've had a good week and I'm sure it will only get better when we go to France. The hunger is there to go out and put my name up in lights.

"It's going to be an exciting summer and we are going there to make a name for ourselves. We want to send out a massive statement to everyone that we are not the team we were five or six years ago and we are going places."

Belfast Telegraph