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Kyle Lafferty must make right move to boost career: Northern Ireland boss O'Neill

Kyle needs to get back in business of scoring goals: Michael

By Graham Luney

Michael O'Neill has told Kyle Lafferty to forget about chasing his next big pay cheque and join a club that will breathe fresh life into his career.

The Fermanagh goal-getter was yesterday named in O'Neill's squad for the friendly against New Zealand at Windsor Park on Friday and the World Cup qualifier against Azerbaijan in Baku on June 10, but a lack of competitive action has left him short of match fitness.

It's a problem which is not a fresh headache for the player or O'Neill, but the Northern Ireland boss cuts a frustrated figure as a player with the class and finishing prowess of Lafferty just can't feel the love at club level.

The 29-year-old comes alive in an international jersey but he has not played any competitive football since coming on as a late substitute in the Norway game at the end of March and has been released by Norwich City.

The former Rangers frontman must find a new home where he can get his career back on track, and he must choose wisely or his club and international future could hit the buffers.

O'Neill knows Lafferty's next move is a critical one in terms of the player's career and he hopes he can make the right call.

"He needs to play and I've had that conversation with him," said the former Shamrock Rovers boss. "There's obviously always financial implications when you move. He's coming from a Premier League side by leaving Norwich but his next club choice is about playing football as opposed to possibly how much you are going to earn to be honest.

"Kyle is still in good physical shape and he can play on comfortably for another four or five years at the level he is playing at, but at the next club he needs to play football because in the last three years he hasn't played anywhere near enough and if that scenario continues it makes it more difficult for us and him.

"He's not particularly happy about it either. After a good time at Palermo he wanted to play at Norwich and what he has achieved with us has kept his spirits higher than they would have been. But he knows now that whatever he does next it is very important for the remaining period he has left in his career."

Lafferty and the rest of the squad sweated it out during training in Manchester last week but O'Neill has stressed the importance of players being 'game ready', particularly in June when competitive seasons are a fading memory.

"Kyle is obviously a concern because he hasn't had any more first team football since the last time we spoke, and after assessing him last week it's a case of seeing what we feel are the number of minutes we can get out of him," added O'Neill.

"Kyle worked extremely hard last week in hot conditions, it was high intensity ball work but I can't babysit the players all the time. The responsibility is on the player to come to us fit to play. It's not my responsibility to get them fit when they are here, I don't have a long enough time to do that. If I had to get him fit when he was here he wouldn't play because he'd be worked so hard during the week.

"We have that balancing act with the players, who were told in March they needed to stay fit.

"We have been through this before but we need to assess where the players are.

"The most important thing for us in this game is to put a team on the pitch that will be as game ready as possible. We don't want players that are lacking in fitness. For the other countries it's less of an issue as they can pick a 23-man squad from the Premier League.

"We had players like Daniel Lafferty, Ryan McLaughlin and Adam Thompson finishing on April 30. Their season finished and that's out of my control. The responsibility lies with the players and they have worked extremely hard and we are pleased with the fitness levels."

Will Grigg and Jamie Ward are both injured, while Conor Washington is getting married, so the door has opened for Accrington Stanley forward Shay McCartan to receive a first call-up. The former Down minor gaelic footballer has previously played for the Northern Ireland Under-21s.

Southend's Adam Thompson and Burton Albion's Tom Flanagan are also included in the 25-man squad.

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