Belfast Telegraph

Euro 2016: Lafferty's biggest fans drown their sorrows in the village pub renamed after him

By Ivan Little

Watching Kyle Lafferty's sister watching her brother on the television in the Kesh pub they've named after him was almost as nerve-wracking as watching the Northern Ireland striker and his team-mates in France.

Sonia Lafferty clasped her hands in prayer, took deep breaths, averted her eyes, sank a stout or two, jumped to her feet, clapped and shouted at the TV as her brother fought an ultimately losing battle against Poland.

And afterwards Sonia, who had just returned from a romantic weekend break in Donegal with her rugby loving boyfriend Stephen Wiggins, admitted she was gutted by the defeat.

And her sense of despair was shared by hundreds of Northern Ireland fans who packed into Lafferty's bar, which has been temporarily rebranded from the Mayfly Inn.

The pub and indeed the whole of Kesh, which is only five miles from the border, had been in party mode all day.

And just before the game the police moved in to divert traffic away from the main street.

The reason wasn't immediately clear until an Orange lodge and a flute band marched proudly through the village.

A total abstinence lodge they were not.

For after the parade was over a number of Orange members of the Green and White Army came in to Lafferty's to watch the match.

Outside big Kyle was the man in the big picture.

Everywhere you looked there were posters, paintings, banners and even a lorry with his face plastered all over them.

There was bunting throughout Kesh and Northern Ireland flags even flew from a rooftop.

One of the biggest 'good luck' messages came from Kyle's first football club, NFC Kesh.

The village has a population of just over 900 but at times it seemed that half of them were in Lafferty's.

Other residents of the village, including Kyle's mother Josephine and his other sister Paula, were watching the match in his aunt's bar - the Anchor - just outside Kesh.

Sonia (37), who thought her dad Robert was watching the Euro 2016 match at home, was in upbeat mood before kick-off.

She said: "I was speaking to Kyle this morning. And he was very relaxed.

"I told him to play his normal game and he would come out smelling of roses.

"He was so relieved to be starting at all because of his injury scare earlier in the week.

"He said he had a feeling he would score and promised that he would sweat blood for the team."

Ballyclare man Jason Fears, who has a holiday home near Kesh, sweated almost as profusely as the game went on.

"It's a bit of a siege," he said at half-time. "But we will get there."

Dozens of Kesh football fans were conspicuous by their absence from the pub. Robert Anderson, the man who looks after the entertainment in Lafferty's, explained: "They're all in France. A couple of buses left here during the week."

The fans they left behind however slowly realised as full time approached that their village wasn't going to 'Kesh in' on the feel-good factor engendered by their most famous son.

But even as the final whistle sounded the staff of Lafferty's still handed out the green and white cocktails which had been intended as a celebratory tipple.

Local resident Mark Millar said he thought Northern Ireland had played too defensively.

"They left it too late to push forward," he said.

Sonia added: "It wasn't one of Northern Ireland's best performances.

"I don't think they got the ball to Kyle enough."

But she was still convinced that Northern Ireland would qualify for the next phase of the competition.

And she will be flying over to France for the final group stage against Germany.

"Kyle has arranged everything for me and they really do think we can do it," she said.

Belfast Telegraph