Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland v Hungary: Fun boy Kyle Lafferty helps us on and off pitch, says Michael O'Neill

By Steven Beacom

Kyle Lafferty's goalscoring heroics have not just inspired Northern Ireland on the pitch in the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign. According to boss Michael O'Neill, the Fermanagh man's lively personality has helped off it too.

Lafferty, in only his second game of the season, will once again spearhead the attack for O'Neill tonight against Hungary when Northern Ireland go hunting for the victory that would secure them a place in next year's finals in France.

With six goals already in Group F, Lafferty will be searching for more.

He has become the go to man in the team, a remarkable transformation from the 2014 World Cup campaign when his manager and team-mates often felt frustrated by the striker's indiscipline.

"Kyle's heart is in the right place. He has made mistakes at times, but all young players make mistakes," said O'Neill.

"What he has given me on the pitch is beyond question. He seems in a good place, and the squad is always brighter when Kyle is around it.

"I think it is important with players like Kyle, you have to overlook some things that are pretty meaningless at the end of the day, and that's what I have tried to do.

"As a lad, I like him. If I was in the dressing room with him, he is a team-mate I would want to spend time with. I have been in dressing rooms where players have been lively, and Kyle falls into that bracket.

"But he listens and wants to do the best for the team. He is not a selfish player and has been huge for us. And he will be huge going forward. He is fully focused on what he wants from this campaign and he is writing his own story with the goals he has scored."

O'Neill does not believe it is fate that exactly 10 years on from defeating England at Windsor, Northern Ireland can qualify for their first Euro finals, but feels that captain Steven Davis and Chris Baird, who played in the fixture, can use that big time experience to the team's advantage against Hungary.

Belfast Telegraph