Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland victory over Faroe Islands is only thing that matters for fired-up Lafferty

Kyle just wants to qualify even if his goals dry up

By Stuart McKinley

He's scored five times in six games during the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign.

An impressive strike rate in anyone's book, unless you're David Healy, who hit a record 13 in 10 matches in the 2008 European Championship series.

Like most strikers, however, Kyle Lafferty's mind is still on the one that got away - namely the opportunity that went begging against Romania at Windsor Park back in June when he fired his shot straight at the goalkeeper in the closing minutes of the scoreless draw when a win would have put Northern Ireland top of Group F with four games to go.

It might have gone through his head on numerous occasions over the last two and a half months, but making up for the miss isn't Lafferty's motivation going into tomorrow night's qualifier against the Faroe Islands.

He has scored against the north Atlantic archipelago twice before in his international career, but a third isn't the be all and end all either.

All that matters to Lafferty is winning so that he and his team-mates can write their names into Northern Ireland footballing folklore.

"I think my mind has been stuck on that chance I missed against Romania in the last 10 minutes to be honest," the man from Kesh said.

"I've always said that I don't care if I don't score another goal in this campaign, as long as we cross the finish line. As long as we are in France next year that's the most important thing.

"I've scored five goals so far and I'm not going to say I'm happy with that.

"I'd love to go on and score another three, four or five, but if I don't I'm pretty happy with the tally that I have - as long as we are there and celebrating."

Fitness concerns following a pre-season knee injury had thrown Lafferty's involvement against the Faroes into doubt.

Having to play without him doesn't bear thinking about for Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill.

He needn't worry though, because the news from the man himself is that if another chance like the one against Romania comes his way, he is in a better shape to put it away this time.

"I'd say that I am fitter and sharper going into these games than I was going into the Romania one," he said.

"I have absolutely worked my socks off on the bike and on the pitch over the last five weeks when I've been injured.

"Getting the injury when I did was disappointing.

"I think I'd done 10 days of pre-season and my first day back with the whole group I did my knee.

"It's just one of those things and I think things happen for a reason. I've had to pick my head up and I am looking forward to these two games."

Looking forward is something of an understatement from the normally not so shy and retiring Lafferty.

As he faced the press, the 27-year-old hardly stopped smiling, such is his eager anticipation of what lies ahead in the next five days.

Like every player and fan, Lafferty is well aware that expectation has risen to a new level, with the European finals in France well within reach.

Rather than being scared off by that, Lafferty is embracing the situation and tomorrow night's match can't come soon enough for him as he looks to clinch a place in France.

"It excites me. I can't wait for Friday night," he said.

"I just can't wait to get out onto the pitch and get the three points that we need and look forward to Monday night.

"I said after the Romania game that we wished the Faroes game was coming up the next day because we have that feeling around the squad now that we just can't wait for the next game to come along because we are excited and want to cross that finish line.

"Everyone knows that we will cross it - it's just a matter of time.

"We can basically get there in the next week, be on the plane to France, if the results go our way and we win the games so it's going to be exciting and I'm excited to be here and hopefully help the team to get the six points that we need.

"If it turns out that we don't we still have two games to play and I am sure that we'll be in France next year."

Belfast Telegraph