Lafferty can fire us towards Brazil
Northern Ireland legend Billy Hamilton, who knows a good striker when he sees one, tells Stuart McKinley that Rangers frontman Kyle Lafferty is the man to help recreate the glory days of Spain 1982 and inspire our wee country to place at 2014 World Cup Finals
Billy Hamilton’s greatest moment in a Northern Ireland shirt came in Madrid on a sweltering July afternoon back in 1982.
A few days earlier he’d whipped in the cross which led to Gerry Armstrong scoring the famous winner against Spain which sent Billy Bingham’s side into the second round of the World Cup.
That’s when Hamilton came to the fore as he powered home two headers in a 2-2 draw with Austria as the team stretched their unbeaten record in that particular tournament to four games.
Supporters from that era can still recall the arm-pumping and windmill celebrations that followed those two goals.
Northern Ireland fans have been crying out for a bustling centre-forward in the Hamilton mould since his international career came to an end after the 1986 World Cup — winning your last cap against Brazil isn’t a bad way to bow out.
The South American nation is where the Green and White Army want to be heading in the summer of 2014 and if that dream is to come true Hamilton believes that the man who has been compared to him must be central to Northern Ireland’s plans.
Kyle Lafferty was missing last month as hopes of qualification for next summer’s Euro 2012 finals in Poland and Ukraine crumbled thanks to defeats against Serbia and Estonia.
What would have happened if the 6ft 4 Rangers striker had been fit we’ll never know, but if he’d been in the team and shown the kind of form that he’s been in of late at club level, where he’s scored 11 times in his last 13 outings, then Northern Ireland may well have been heading into Friday night’s qualifier against Estonia at Windsor Park with a much more realistic chance of gaining a play-off spot.
“We had a great chance of qualifying, probably the best chance for a while, but unfortunately a couple of bad results at the wrong time have put paid to that,” said Hamilton (pictured).
“Had Kyle Lafferty been available for the last three games things might have been different.
“Kyle definitely brings something different to the team, there is a different dynamic when he’s there and is imposing himself as a big target man. He is a handful for defenders and can cause havoc in the penalty area for others to take advantage of.”
Lafferty’s eight goals in 29 appearances is only bettered by 12 previous Northern Ireland players, but Hamilton believes the 24-year-old can score even more if he’s used in a more attacking role.
“People have compared Kyle and myself, but he’s not an out-and-out centre-forward and I’m surprised that he hasn’t played in that role more often,” said Hamilton.
“He definitely has all the attributes — a good touch and ability in the air — and if I was his manager I’d be working on him as a centre-forward and playing to his strengths.
“I’d coach him to jump a wee bit earlier and hang in the air. He’s got an extra couple of inches on most of the players he comes up against as it is and if his timing was a little better it would give him a big advantage.”
As well as comparisons from Northern Ireland fans, there were also parallels drawn between the pair at Burnley, where Hamilton played over 200 games and Lafferty started his career before his £3m move to Ibrox in June 2008.
“I spoke with some people at Burnley when Kyle was coming through.
“They really liked him and were very impressed with him,” said Hamilton.
“They had high hopes for him and expected him to go far. They cashed in on him early and the deal that took him to Rangers was a very good one for the club.”
Two more players were last night called up by Northern Ireland manager Nigel Worthington for Friday’s game against Estonia and the trip to Italy next Tuesday.
Andy Little, who is currently on-loan from Rangers to Port Vale and Oliver Norwood — on-loan at Scunthorpe United from Manchester United — have joined Conor McLaughlin of Preston in being drafted in after the withdrawals of Aaron Hughes, Jamie Ward and Josh McQuoid.