Belfast Telegraph

No Laff, I want French on first night of Euro finals, insists Kyle

By Steven Beacom

Northern Ireland goalscoring sensation Kyle Lafferty has declared he wants a crack at hosts France in the opening match of the Euro 2016 finals.

Lafferty raised smiles over the weekend when he joked that he fancied facing South American giants Brazil and Argentina next summer, but he was deadly serious when talking about a mega-meeting with the French at the imposing 80,000 capacity Stade de France to kick-off the tournament on June 10.

The Norwich striker, who netted seven times during Northern Ireland's successful Euro qualifying campaign, said: "I would like France in the opening match of the tournament. That night there would be the opening ceremony and I'm sure the atmosphere in the stadium would be amazing.

"And to have our fans in that ground in the first match ever for Northern Ireland in the European Championships would be incredible.

"It would be hard to find the words to describe it if we did land France in the opening game.

"At the end of the day though it doesn't matter who we get. The most important thing is that we are there and whoever we play against we will do all we can to give them a tough game."

Lafferty was so sensational in the qualifying campaign, acting as the talisman for the team, he is now being mentioned in the same breath as other Northern Ireland sporting heroes such as golfer Rory McIlroy and boxer Carl Frampton.

"To be named in that bracket is incredible because they have done so much for Northern Ireland sport," said the 28-year-old.

"I have scored very important goals in this Euro campaign but every single person in our squad, including the boys who sat in the stands and didn't get a game, have been important. This squad is special. I don't think Michael will ever manage a team with the same bond that we have and the same determination."

On the manager, the Fermanagh man's views are crystal clear. He wants O'Neill to be given a new four year deal and as revealed in Monday's Belfast Telegraph, he is set to be granted his wish.

"It is important that the IFA sort out Michael's contract now," said the former Rangers ace.

"We don't want none of this two year stuff. It may be unusual to offer a Northern Ireland manager a longer deal but they should do whatever Michael wants and realise what he has done for the country, and what he has done for us as players, and the way he has us playing football and working for each other.

"I believe that if Michael wasn't in charge we would not be celebrating and looking forward to Euro 2016. It took someone special to turn this team around and he has done it and deserves to be recognised for what he has done."

Lafferty himself has undergone a dramatic transformation. Once dubbed the clown of the side, he is now the crown prince. He deserves immense credit for that should take great pride in his performances, though once again he said the manager was key.

"To score seven goals in the nine starts that I had, and some of them were very important, was great for me. Again Michael played a huge part in that," said Lafferty.

"He stuck by me when things weren't going well for me. Also I couldn't have done it without the lads playing behind me. We reakky do have some amazing players in our squad."

Belfast Telegraph