Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

Little’s big ambition for Northern Ireland

Andrew Little is gunning for club and international team-mate Kyle Lafferty but will firstly turn his sights on Italy

Friendly fire will soon be sparked between Fermanagh’s finest forwards.

For rookie hitman Andy Little, whose goals last summer helped the Northern Ireland Elite side lift the Milk Cup, has declared, ahead of tomorrow night’s glamour friendly against Italy, he is ready to step up and be a major player for club and country.

That proposition could spell all out war with fellow Erne man and pal Kyle Lafferty.

The problem is these two close friends have too much in common.

Both play for Old Firm giants Rangers, both represent Northern Ireland and both want a striker’s role.

And unless they are paired together, which is highly unlikely considering their tender years — (Little 20 and Lafferty 21 respectively) — two into one does not go.

Therefore an exciting battle, which can only improve the centre- forwards’ performances, will commence in pre-season training. Lafferty of course, who signed for Rangers last year on a five year contract after a £3 million-plus move from Burnley, is ahead of his pal in the pecking orders, but Andy, brother of popular Sky Sports News presenter Graham, is determined in the next 12 months to make a real impression on the club and international stage.

He has already made his debut for the double winning Govan club and after arriving in sun drenched Pisa yesterday with his Northern Ireland team-mates, is hopeful of winning a second cap against the Italians.

“I’ve never really looked at it that way, but I suppose Kyle and I are challenging for the same position at Rangers and with Northern Ireland,” says Little, who in February signed a new contract to stay at Ibrox until 2011 and on Tuesday only returned from playing in a seven-a-side tournament for the Gers in Hong Kong.

“You could say Kyle’s arrival at Rangers has made my job more difficult, but we’re really good friends and I enjoy the competition. My goal is to cement my place in the first-team squad next season and attempt to play in as many first-team games as possible. After Christmas and when I made my debut I was heavily involved with the first-team squad. I maybe didn’t get on, but I made the bench. That’s why I was surprised to be left out of the Scottish Cup final squad last weekend and told I was going to play in the Hong Kong Sevens tournament.

“I was disappointed because naturally I wanted to be involved. I felt part of the first team squad.

“We report back for pre-season on July 9 so it will be interesting to find out what the manager’s thoughts are regarding my involvement in the first team next season. The manager has told us he needs to cut back on his squad and is keen to bring the young boys through.

“Hopefully that will happen and I’ll be given further opportunities.”

Little, for this week anyhow, will put club matters to the back of his mind.

For the striker, who has played a number of times in defence for Rangers youths, is poised to play some part against the world champions out here in Tuscany tomorrow night. He along with a hugely inexperienced Northern Ireland squad will tackle a weakened, but equally skillful Italian outfit.

Little though does not fear the challenge — rather he classifies this match simply as the greatest game of his young life.

He says: “Every single member of this squad has something to prove, even the senior players so we’ll not be sitting back to be taken apart. The Italians will not know a thing about us and that could work in our favour because they will maybe take it too easy and underestimate us. It’s up to us then to take advantage of that.”

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