Belfast Telegraph

Euro 2016: France is my shop window, says NI star Kyle Lafferty

Fermanagh ace admits he used to mess about as an NI player, but now he's fired up to earn his 50th cap

By Steven Beacom

Northern Ireland talisman Kyle Lafferty has revealed how he transformed his international career by changing his attitude and getting his 'head sorted'.

Lafferty is set to win his 50th cap on Friday night at Windsor Park against Belarus when the Northern Ireland supporters will give the team a rousing send-off in their last home match before the Euro 2016 finals.

Speaking at Carton House in county Kildare, which is the squad's base this week, the Fermanagh man was open and honest about his early days as a Northern Ireland player, insisting that he should have reached the half century landmark by now given that he made his debut a decade ago.

While learning from his past, the 28-year-old is completely focused on the future and delivering for his country at the Euro 2016 finals, which he sees as a shop window for him to move to a new club.

Lafferty, who ended the season on loan at Birmingham, will leave Norwich City in the summer and should he have an impressive tournament in France, there will be no shortage of takers for the hitman.

"This tournament is a shop window for me. I know if I can go out and perform the way I can I'm hoping that teams will take a chance on me," said Lafferty, who was sensational in qualifying, scoring seven goals as Northern Ireland topped their group.

"If I'm in the starting XI, I know that with the quality of my team-mates I will get chances and will feel confident about going into each game."

With a touch of emotion in his voice, Lafferty added: "I'll run through walls for the team."

He admits it wasn't always that way.

To the outside world Lafferty is seen as the joker in the pack and he certainly brings fun to the Northern Ireland camp, but there is a serious side to him too.

And ahead of the biggest few weeks in his football life, he took the opportunity to reflect on how far he has come and how he did it with the help of manager Michael O'Neill and the Northern Ireland players.

"I'm getting to my 50th cap, though to be honest I should have reached it a long time ago," he said.

"Maybe in the first few years of my international career I took the p*** really. I turned up whenever I wanted, messed about and wasn't concentrating on things.

"The last two or three years I have settled down, got my head sorted and turn up for every single game now.

"I started nine games out of 10 in the last campaign which was great for me and to score seven goals to help the team qualify was amazing.

"My discipline has improved and I'm a lot happier. I've had conversations with Michael and he has made me realise how important I am to the team. I think the players have made me feel wanted as well. Both Michael and the lads have helped me and I feel the benefit of it."

Asked how he copes with the responsibility of being such a key figure for the team, Lafferty replied: "It is how Michael has made me feel and how the lads have made me feel knowing that if I'm performing we have a chance of getting a result. I know if I'm not on my game it is going to affect the whole team."

On how far Northern Ireland can go in Euro 2016, Lafferty was positive about the team's chances in the group games against Poland, Ukraine and Germany.

He stated: "Everyone in the squad believes we can qualify for the knockout stages.

"I think the way the games are set up suits us. I believe we can beat Poland in the first game and that takes us into the Ukraine game and I think we can get something there.

"Then we have the Germany game which will be tough but hopefully we will have done enough before then.

"The quality in our squad may not be at the level of Poland's Robert Lewandowski and players like that but we do have quality and what I believe we will have more of than any other team is determination."

Belfast Telegraph