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Michael O'Neill concerned about Kyle Lafferty ahead of Euro 2016

Published 23/03/2016

Michael O'Neill conceded that the challenge of shackling Gareth Balewould have been the ideal preparation for Euro 2016
Michael O'Neill conceded that the challenge of shackling Gareth Balewould have been the ideal preparation for Euro 2016
Kyle Lafferty has played 18 minutes since November

Kyle Lafferty's lack of playing time at Norwich is a cause for concern for Michael O'Neill as Northern Ireland try to get their talisman up to speed ahead of Euro 2016.

The 28-year-old has played a combined 45 minutes in three substitute's appearances for the Canaries this term and is unlikely to add to that before the campaign ends if the loan window shuts on Thursday without him leaving.

His position at international level is secured, though, following seven goals in a qualifying campaign that saw Northern Ireland reach their first major international tournament in 30 years.

However, with only four friendlies to come before that competition in France, O'Neill admits Lafferty's club situation is worrying given his value to Northern Ireland.

"There's always a concern when you have such an important player in your team not playing," he said.

"If you look back at the qualification games, he came into the games in September without any football and scored in both the Faroes and Hungary game.

"We saw a little bit of a lack of match sharpness in the following games. We just have to see how it is.

"It's a situation that I can't change. I know that Kyle's concerned about it but I know he's working hard to make sure he's in the best shape possible to play. Whatever we get out of him, it's a step for him in terms of his preparations for the finals.

"We will have a month, minimum, to get Kyle fit leading into the opening game. We're already assuming his club situation doesn't change. We're already discussing how we can have him in the best shape possible for the finals."

Lafferty is expected to start a game for the first time in four months on Thursday when Northern Ireland face Wales in Cardiff.

While the visiting manager's future was secured last week when O'Neill penned a four-year contract extension, Coleman remains at an impasse over his deal, which expires immediately after the tournament.

O'Neill acknowledged that he was keen to avoid the type of uncertainty which is currently surrounding his Welsh counterpart ahead of such a crucial period in the international calendar.

"What happens is the season will finish and the media will turn attention to the Euros and need to find things to write about, so they will start writing about managers' situations," he said.

"I'd been in discussions with the IFA since post-qualification, from December and January. It was the right thing for me, the players; it gave a stability to the whole situation.

"A lot of managers will come into the tournament slightly unsettled, not knowing where their next move is going to be. You see the Italian manager and there's quite a lot in the media about that.

"I felt it brought focus and stability and for myself I wanted to make sure my focus was 100 per cent on the tournament. By signing the contract, it gives me that."

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