Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 25 December 2014

Kyle Lafferty: I'll leave Northern Ireland red card horror in past

Kyle Lafferty sees red after lunging at Joao Pereira
Kyle Lafferty sees red after lunging at Joao Pereira

The enigma that is Kyle Lafferty. When he is good for Northern Ireland, he is very, very good but when he is bad, he is horrid.

 

The thing is, it is becoming more difficult to remember when he was very, very good because it was so long ago.

Horrid? You only have to think back to September last year when he needlessly got himself dismissed for a crazy challenge on Portugal defender Joao Pereira in a World Cup qualifier at Windsor Park.

That followed another error seconds after coming on the pitch as a substitute when the Palermo striker failed to pick up Cristiano Ronaldo in the box, allowing the Real Madrid superstar to head the Portuguese level on his way to completing a hat-trick in a 4-2 victory for the visitors.

In the post match press conference, Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill was livid with Lafferty, so much so that the player's international future was being questioned at the age of 25.

He has not played for the international team since, but will make his return against Cyprus, winning his 37th cap in a Nicosia friendly tomorrow night (6.00pm).

The Northern Ireland fans will be interested to see which Kyle Lafferty, now 26, shows up... the immature, indisciplined and attention seeking clown or the fully focused footballer who several years ago tortured and scored goals away from home against Sweden and Poland.

As the Fermanagh man acknowledges, the 2016 European Championship qualifying draw has given Northern Ireland a genuine chance to make it to the finals in France.

For the dream to become reality, however, O'Neill's top players Jonny Evans, Gareth McAuley, Steven Davis and Lafferty will have to be on top form throughout the campaign. And that means Kyle being available more often than not, free of injury and suspension.

Out of the 27 games Lafferty has started for his country, he has only finished eight of them. In his international career, he has been booked a remarkable 12 times and sent off once, serving FIVE suspensions. Those figures have to change.

Given his age, saying Lafferty is drinking in the last chance saloon might be a bit much, but you do wonder if he blows it this time, especially with O'Neill in charge, how many more chances he will get.

Lafferty says: "It's good to be back in the squad. I always enjoy playing for my country. You're only as good as your last game though and in my last game I was sent off. I had a nightmare. I let the lads and the fans down.

"I want to show Michael I'm still good enough for the team, that I'm still here and that he can rely on me.

"In the last campaign I was disappointed with my own performances in some of the games. To finish the campaign with no goals was a big disappointment. For the next one I'll be psyched up and hoping to give more to the team.

"Michael still thinks I can offer a lot and I think I can too, even though we have three or four strikers now fighting for a place which is good for competition."

On the red card against Portugal, Lafferty said: "It was probably down to being too eager. I was disappointed not to start the match and when you come off the bench you want to do the best you can.

"I was on the pitch about 30 seconds and Ronaldo scored when I was supposed to be marking him, then I lunged into a tackle and got sent off. It was a disappointing night.

"We were in control of the game, winning 2-1 and Michael put me on to help the team. I was gutted with what happened."

Lafferty, who has scored nine international goals, has been in fine form for Palermo this season, helping them challenge for the Serie B title in Italy. He is enjoying this period much better than his time in Switzerland with Sion. Lafferty admits now going there was a mistake, savaging the Sion President for breaking the team up mid-season.

The former Rangers forward believes the Italian experience has benefited his football and suggests one of the best moments of his life could come in the next few months.

He says: "I joined Palermo to win Serie B and it's going well. We have a good enough team to win the league. I won three titles with Rangers and every single one was massive and I'll never forget that. Winning Serie B, if we manage it, would be another highlight of my career."-

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