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Euro 2016: Northern Ireland striker Kyle Lafferty's exclusive diary from France

By Kyle Lafferty

Published 19/06/2016

Kyle Lafferty during training at St Georges-de-Reneins
Kyle Lafferty during training at St Georges-de-Reneins

Northern Ireland talisman Kyle Lafferty endured a rollercoaster ride in France this week.

From the highs of starting his first ever Euro 2016 game to the lows of hardly getting a touch against Poland and ultimately the game ending in defeat.

Then came the news he was dropped from the team to face Ukraine — a game he watched from the bench as Northern Ireland recorded an historic victory.

In today’s exclusive column for Sunday Life, our man inside the Northern Ireland camp details his second week at the Euro 2016 finals.

Sunday

What an emotional morning. I must admit I did shed a tear as the realisation hit me that the day had come when we would play our first Euro 2016 match — a game I’d been building up to since the draw was made in December.

This was our biggest game in 30 years and was a chance for every single member of the squad to become legends. I’ve never been so buzzing for a game.

I struggled once again to hold back the tears when the National Anthem was being played. It just made me feel so proud to represent our wee country in a history making match — the first time Northern Ireland had featured in a European Championships game.

I looked around the stadium and I couldn’t believe the incredible support from the Green and White Army. The noise they generated really did make it feel like Windsor Park.

That’s what really annoyed me most about the defeat to Poland, the fact we let down all those fans. We just froze in the heat of Nice and let slip a glorious opportunity.

Poland may only have won by one goal, but they were the much better team.

I can’t be too hard on my own performance because it’s difficult to do anything as a striker if you don’t get the ball.

After the match I said that I felt we were overawed by the occasion. I know some people took issue with me, but I still believe that and don’t see any other reason why we wouldn’t perform.

We defended brilliantly, but couldn’t create anything.

We went straight back on a charter flight to Lyon. Michael O’Neill made us watch the first half of the game on the plane — the half when we basically didn’t get a kick of the ball. It was hard to watch.

Monday

We only arrived back in the early hours of the morning so there was no training and I woke to a text from wife Vanessa telling me about the Northern Ireland fan, Darren Rodgers, who sadly lost his life in Nice.

It cut me in two. Absolutely heartbreaking.

Darren was not just a football fan. He was one of us, a brother. Everyone in the squad was affected. We maybe didn’t know him personally, but it felt as though we did because he was from Northern Ireland and was part of our family. Club football talks about being a family but I think it is definitely the case if you are from Northern Ireland — we are like our own wee community and so news like this affects everyone from the management, players and fellow fans. It was all we could talk about at lunchtime when we sat at the table and details started to come through about how he died. Every single player respects the fans and you could tell that in their social media posts.

He died following us and we will be ever grateful for his support.

It was the players who spoke about what we could do as a tribute whether it be black armbands or a minute’s silence and then we left it up to the Irish FA.

Monday was really a recovery day but we were straight into Ukraine preparation with video analysis that night in the team hotel.

Tuesday

The Northern Ireland football team has always been full of characters — me included, I suppose.

We enjoy a laugh and a joke during training, when we take a break from the serious part of the sessions. However on Tuesday all the players were still feeling down following the defeat to Poland and weren’t in a great mood. We just wanted to do the training and get back to the team hotel.

So step forward Josh Magennis.

Sometimes in this game you need to know when to keep quiet and when to say something.

Josh must have judged the mood because his antics soon had us all back smiling and laughing.

He said stupid things, did stupid things but it was just what we all needed and it really broke the ice.

Four years ago that was probably me but I think I have matured a little bit and I’m more than happy to sit back and let Josh revel in all the attention.

I was allowed to see my wife on Tuesday and that really picked me up.

Wednesday

We had a session at our training complex in the morning and then the afternoon was all about visiting the Stade de Lyon.

As we drove towards the stadium we could see it from miles away and it really was state-of-the-art.

We were told that there could be upwards of 18,000 Northern Ireland fans coming to the game while there would thousands in Lyon watching on the big screen at the Fanzones. Incredible.

We as players understand how expensive it is to come out here and support us at the games so we really appreciate it and one of things that was going through my head was the fact that the fans would be able to watch the game in a lovely stadium.

I hope this doesn’t annoy too many people, but one of the first things I saw when I walked out on to the pitch was the colours all around the stadium — red, white and blue. I know they are to represent France but I think many of our fans hold those colours dear to them and I thought this is going to be our stadium. This is going to be the place where we’d get a great result.

Thursday

I was absolutely gutted not to start the game.

I really didn’t think I could be blamed for Sunday’s defeat simply because I didn’t get any of the ball, so it hurt, it hurt bad that I was dropped. The manager may say that maybe he didn’t think I could play three games in a row — I don’t know what his thinking was — but I really wanted to play. The biggest tournament Northern Ireland will play at and it could be a one-off. Hopefully not, but it could be.

However, Michael put his head on the block with the five changes and a new formation and it paid off for him.

I was just your typical Northern Ireland fan on the bench watching the action — willing the boys to score and then celebrating.

If I’m honest, I really wanted a piece of the action. This was Northern Ireland’s greatest moment for a long time and I played no part in it.

I was so proud and pleased for every Northern Ireland player who wear the green shirt against Ukraine, they were fantastic.

Obviously I want to start against Germany but I can’t see that happening. Why would you drop the players who secured that victory?

The dressing room was tinged with sadness again after the match when word filtered through that a supporter had sadly passed away while watching the game.

The celebrations were cut short and we just couldn’t believe one of our own had died while cheering us on. On behalf of the team I would like to pass on our condolences to the family of Robert ‘Archie’ Rainey. You will forever be in our thoughts.

Friday

Family day at the Chateau de Pizay and Michael and his staff organised a barbeque for us all. We all had a rest from training and it was good to relax.

I was still very disappointed that I didn’t feature the previous evening but if there is one person who can pick me up, then it’s Vanessa. It was so great to see her and spend more time with her. If there is one person who can take me from being down in the dumps to cloud nine, then it is my wife.

I can talk openly and honestly with her, don’t have to be careful with what I say and I really do miss her. I know for many of the players, especially with families staying in other parts of France it’s been really difficult and I know Friday meant a lot to them.

At the back of the players’ minds was the fact we have one more huge game coming up in our group and so, while we had good fun with our families, we couldn’t completely let ourselves go.

Saturday

Even thought it was more than 24 hours after the event, all the players were still coming to terms with the death of ‘Archie’ Rainey. We just couldn’t believe a second Northern Ireland fan had passed away while out here supporting us. People should not go to games and not come home.

During the morning it was back to the training ground at St Georges de Reneins with the Germany game only three days away.

I was in good spirits and led the running at the start. I’m desperate to play against Germany but I know in my heart of hearts Michael’s unlikely to change the team.

We’ve done some video analysis on them and of course they are such a powerful team. But we’ll give it our best shot and prepare in the best way possible.

Northern Ireland talisman Kyle Lafferty endured a rollercoaster ride in France this week. From the highs of starting his first ever Euro 2016 game to the lows of hardly getting a touch against Poland and ultimately the game ending in defeat. Then came the news he was dropped from the team to face Ukraine — a game he watched from the bench as Northern Ireland recorded an historic victory. In today’s exclusive column for Sunday Life, our man inside the Northern Ireland camp details his second week at the Euro 2016 finals.

Sunday

What an emotional morning. I must admit I did shed a tear as the realisation hit me that the day had come when we would play our first Euro 2016 match — a game I’d been building up to since the draw was made in December.

This was our biggest game in 30 years and was a chance for every single member of the squad to become legends. I’ve never been so buzzing for a game.

I struggled once again to hold back the tears when the National Anthem was being played. It just made me feel so proud to represent our wee country in a history making match — the first time Northern Ireland had featured in a European Championships game.

I looked around the stadium and I couldn’t believe the incredible support from the Green and White Army. The noise they generated really did make it feel like Windsor Park.

That’s what really annoyed me most about the defeat to Poland, the fact we let down all those fans. We just froze in the heat of Nice and let slip a glorious opportunity.

Poland may only have won by one goal, but they were the much better team.

I can’t be too hard on my own performance because it’s difficult to do anything as a striker if you don’t get the ball.

After the match I said that I felt we were overawed by the occasion. I know some people took issue with me, but I still believe that and don’t see any other reason why we wouldn’t perform.

We defended brilliantly, but couldn’t create anything.

We went straight back on a charter flight to Lyon. Michael O’Neill made us watch the first half of the game on the plane — the half when we basically didn’t get a kick of the ball. It was hard to watch.

Monday

We only arrived back in the early hours of the morning so there was no training and I woke to a text from wife Vanessa telling me about the Northern Ireland fan, Darren Rodgers, who sadly lost his life in Nice.

It cut me in two. Absolutely heartbreaking.

Darren was not just a football fan. He was one of us, a brother. Everyone in the squad was affected. We maybe didn’t know him personally, but it felt as though we did because he was from Northern Ireland and was part of our family. Club football talks about being a family but I think it is definitely the case if you are from Northern Ireland — we are like our own wee community and so news like this affects everyone from the management, players and fellow fans. It was all we could talk about at lunchtime when we sat at the table and details started to come through about how he died. Every single player respects the fans and you could tell that in their social media posts.

He died following us and we will be ever grateful for his support.

It was the players who spoke about what we could do as a tribute whether it be black armbands or a minute’s silence and then we left it up to the Irish FA.

Monday was really a recovery day but we were straight into Ukraine preparation with video analysis that night in the team hotel.

Tuesday

The Northern Ireland football team has always been full of characters — me included, I suppose.

We enjoy a laugh and a joke during training, when we take a break from the serious part of the sessions. However on Tuesday all the players were still feeling down following the defeat to Poland and weren’t in a great mood. We just wanted to do the training and get back to the team hotel.

So step forward Josh Magennis.

Sometimes in this game you need to know when to keep quiet and when to say something.

Josh must have judged the mood because his antics soon had us all back smiling and laughing.

He said stupid things, did stupid things but it was just what we all needed and it really broke the ice.

Four years ago that was probably me but I think I have matured a little bit and I’m more than happy to sit back and let Josh revel in all the attention.

I was allowed to see my wife on Tuesday and that really picked me up.

Wednesday

We had a session at our training complex in the morning and then the afternoon was all about visiting the Stade de Lyon.

As we drove towards the stadium we could see it from miles away and it really was state-of-the-art.

We were told that there could be upwards of 18,000 Northern Ireland fans coming to the game while there would thousands in Lyon watching on the big screen at the Fanzones. Incredible.

We as players understand how expensive it is to come out here and support us at the games so we really appreciate it and one of things that was going through my head was the fact that the fans would be able to watch the game in a lovely stadium.

I hope this doesn’t annoy too many people, but one of the first things I saw when I walked out on to the pitch was the colours all around the stadium — red, white and blue. I know they are to represent France but I think many of our fans hold those colours dear to them and I thought this is going to be our stadium. This is going to be the place where we’d get a great result.

Thursday

I was absolutely gutted not to start the game.

I really didn’t think I could be blamed for Sunday’s defeat simply because I didn’t get any of the ball, so it hurt, it hurt bad that I was dropped. The manager may say that maybe he didn’t think I could play three games in a row — I don’t know what his thinking was — but I really wanted to play. The biggest tournament Northern Ireland will play at and it could be a one-off. Hopefully not, but it could be.

However, Michael put his head on the block with the five changes and a new formation and it paid off for him.

I was just your typical Northern Ireland fan on the bench watching the action — willing the boys to score and then celebrating.

If I’m honest, I really wanted a piece of the action. This was Northern Ireland’s greatest moment for a long time and I played no part in it.

I was so proud and pleased for every Northern Ireland player who wear the green shirt against Ukraine, they were fantastic.

Obviously I want to start against Germany but I can’t see that happening. Why would you drop the players who secured that victory?

The dressing room was tinged with sadness again after the match when word filtered through that a supporter had sadly passed away while watching the game.

The celebrations were cut short and we just couldn’t believe one of our own had died while cheering us on. On behalf of the team I would like to pass on our condolences to the family of Robert ‘Archie’ Rainey. You will forever be in our thoughts.

Friday

Family day at the Chateau de Pizay and Michael and his staff organised a barbeque for us all. We all had a rest from training and it was good to relax.

I was still very disappointed that I didn’t feature the previous evening but if there is one person who can pick me up, then it’s Vanessa. It was so great to see her and spend more time with her. If there is one person who can take me from being down in the dumps to cloud nine, then it is my wife.

I can talk openly and honestly with her, don’t have to be careful with what I say and I really do miss her. I know for many of the players, especially with families staying in other parts of France it’s been really difficult and I know Friday meant a lot to them.

At the back of the players’ minds was the fact we have one more huge game coming up in our group and so, while we had good fun with our families, we couldn’t completely let ourselves go.

Saturday

Even thought it was more than 24 hours after the event, all the players were still coming to terms with the death of ‘Archie’ Rainey. We just couldn’t believe a second Northern Ireland fan had passed away while out here supporting us. People should not go to games and not come home.

During the morning it was back to the training ground at St Georges de Reneins with the Germany game only three days away.

I was in good spirits and led the running at the start. I’m desperate to play against Germany but I know in my heart of hearts Michael’s unlikely to change the team.

We’ve done some video analysis on them and of course they are such a powerful team. But we’ll give it our best shot and prepare in the best way possible.

Online Editors

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