Belfast Telegraph

I'm fit and I've got the bottle to take on Poles: Kyle Lafferty

By Steven Beacom

Kyle Lafferty has had his say. He is feeling good and claims he is ready to face Poland on Sunday in Northern Ireland's first ever match in the European Championship finals.

Following yesterday's precautionary scan on the groin he twisted in Tuesday's training session, he tweeted: "Results of the scan (followed by a thumbs up emoji). Now back on the pitch and bring on the Poles".

That corresponded with what manager Michael O'Neill had said previously when he stated he had "no concerns" and that his star forward was "fine".

The same message has been coming from the Irish FA.

They are all singing from the same hymn sheet on this one and come Sunday the Northern Ireland supporters will be hoping to be chanting the Fermanagh man's name after a few goals against the Polish.

Lafferty, like his team-mates, will have a rest day today before resuming training tomorrow. O'Neill and the Irish FA medical staff will be interested to see how he reacts to that.

Yesterday, the Norwich City striker worked out on an exercise bike on the balcony as the squad put in a lively session at Saint-Georges-de-Reneins.

In the build-up to the tournament, Lafferty has been very honest in interviews about his career and how new wife Vanessa and O'Neill have helped him come to the fore at international level.

He has also spoken about how, after getting sent off against Portugal in a World Cup qualifier at Windsor Park three years ago, he thought about quitting the Northern Ireland scene, and why his attitude wasn't right in the early days when he played for his country.

On a similar theme he has opened up more about that and why a move to his boyhood club Rangers didn't work out as he had hoped.

"I think I missed 15 or 20 games either through suspension (for Northern Ireland) or not being in the right frame of mind," he said.

"I probably preferred to go away to the sun for two or three days rather than play for my country.

"It should be a special moment and young kids are brought up, and even old men, to give their right arm to play for their country.

"I wasn't fully focused at the start. I was probably given a bit too much at an early age - I got some big moves and played in big games.

"I played for Glasgow Rangers, the team I supported when I was growing up. Glasgow is a strange place. If you don't have someone close to you looking out for you, your head will wander.

"Obviously I was one of those people who loved the opportunity to play for Rangers but didn't quite take it with both hands.

"Now I am fully focused on my football and doing well for Northern Ireland.

"The belief I have when I come away with the national team is unbelievable.

"Michael made me realise how important I am to the team. I know if I do something stupid and give the ball away, my team isn't going to shout at me. They'll believe in me that I'll do something to change the game and obviously if I score it benefits everyone.

"They know that if I turn up we can beat anyone really. It's down to the way the lads have made me.

"The last year has been an absolute nightmare for me club-wise, playing so few games for Norwich, but I've enjoyed being with the Northern Ireland squad throughout and know I'm going to get game time.

"Not in a cocky way, but I'm the centre of attention. The more I score, the more I want to do even better.

"We are in France to make people proud of us and to be remembered as a team that went a long way."

The relationship between Lafferty and O'Neill has been key to Northern Ireland's success of late.

It was O'Neill who turned the striker into the player many, who saw him as a kid, thought he could be, inspiring him to net seven times during the qualifying campaign.

O'Neill will again get inside Lafferty's head in this tournament.

The widely travelled forward revealed he even changed the date of his wedding to suit the Northern Ireland boss.

It was originally down for May 28 but went ahead a week earlier.

Lafferty said: "It was worth it. We looked at the dates and chose May 21.

"It's worked out well. Obviously with the season finishing then a week later I got married, and then set off to get prepared for the Euros. Now I want to help Northern Ireland be a big success in France."

Belfast Telegraph