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Home comforts will have Kyle Lafferty and Josh Magennis happy and striving for top form

Gareth McAuley


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Kyle Lafferty and Derek McInnes at Kilmarnock

Kyle Lafferty and Derek McInnes at Kilmarnock

Josh Magennis has left Hull for Wigan

Josh Magennis has left Hull for Wigan

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Kyle Lafferty and Derek McInnes at Kilmarnock

Kyle Lafferty seems to have more lives than the most fortunate feline.

Yet again, his professional career, at the age of 34, has been resurrected after a sojourn to Cyprus and he’s now back at a place where he feels valued.

Big Laffs should never have left Kilmarnock last summer. I’m convinced if they had stayed up in the Scottish Premiership — and Kyle certainly tried his best with 13 goals in 13 games — then the money situation wouldn’t have been inflamed and an agreement could have been reached for him to sign a new contract at Rugby Park.

He was happy there, he was scoring goals and Kilmarnock ticked all the right boxes for him in terms of being close to his family home.

Laffs, though, has now returned with a point to prove at both club and international level, and hopefully that makes him a dangerous and determined striker.

He’ll be playing under a new Killie manager in Derek McInnes, after Tommy Wright and the club parted ways last month, while in terms of Northern Ireland, Kyle will be trying to convince Ian Baraclough he deserves a recall for the March friendlies against Hungary and Luxembourg having been dropped last year.

It’s an unusual situation for Kyle — even during his goal drought and when he was frozen out at the likes of Norwich he was always selected for Northern Ireland.

So he now has an extra incentive to be a major success for Killie, and go on a goal blitz in their push for promotion back to the Scottish Premiership.

If you look at Northern Ireland’s leading scorers throughout the Leagues, Billy McKay and Liam Boyce are the front runners and they apparently don’t want to be involved in the international set-up.

Therefore, the opportunity still remains for Big Laffs, if he can find a rich vein of form, to be our main man in 2022 or at least have a serious role in playing alongside the likes of Shayne Lavery.

Kyle performs best when everything outside is settled and he has his support network close by. The fact he is now only a 20-minute drive from his family home will make a huge difference and we saw that in his first stint at Killie.

The big man loves an adventure abroad but the problem with that is that it can be a lonely existence. You are often lost in your own thoughts. Even after training, football can consume you and it’s all you might ever think about because there are no distractions.

At home, the kids are there and you have responsibilities such as the school run, the children’s sporting activities and even the weekly shop to take your mind off football.

That’s why family is so important to Kyle and why Josh Magennis’ move to League One Wigan from Championship side Hull makes total sense.

Josh’s wife and kids remained in Lancashire following his time at Bolton, which meant when he was at Hull he was either travelling a lot or spending a considerable amount of time away.

Now Josh is at Wigan, who are in a great position for automatic promotion to the Championship, he’s only a short distance away from his family home.

Josh couldn’t be happier, he’s got a new challenge, Wigan are a great club with a fantastic set-up and they are battling at the top of the League.

Yes, he’s left a Championship club for a League One side, but I don’t see it as a step back. The complete opposite. Come August, Josh could be playing in the Championship again and at a club where he is truly happy.

Kyle and Josh are similar to that extent, when they have their family around them to offer the love and support they need they perform well on the pitch.

In contrast, young Northern Ireland goalkeeper Conor Hazard, who is contracted to Celtic, this week moved thousands of miles away to Finland and I believe it could be the best thing.

Conor is at a completely different stage to Kyle and Josh, he’s looking for valuable experience and signing for HJK Helsinki on a year’s loan will give him the game time in a decent League he desperately needs.

Having trained with Conor when I was still playing for Northern Ireland, I really like the kid. He is confident but also has wonderful humility.

At 23 he can go to Finland, play for a top team always vying for silverware and enjoy the history and culture of a magnificent European city. A move to HJK Helsinki for 12 months is wonderful for his development and he will come back a much improved keeper. He’s already a very good goalkeeper but this life experience will make him even better.

If I was Northern Ireland manager Baraclough, I would be very content with the clubs these players have gone to.

It’s at last a bit of positive news following the injuries to the Evans brothers and Steven Davis’ lack of game time at Rangers.

Irish League players shouldn’t be punished if a club wants to pay big wages

I understand discussions are under way in the Irish League to possibly impose a wage cap.

I must admit that while it’s important clubs live within their means, I wouldn’t be in favour of any actual wage cap.

I’ve always held that view no matter what League I’ve played in.

For me, running a club is a business and therefore the likes of the Northern Ireland Football League and Irish Football Association should be looking at the various business models of each club and raising any concerns that way.

The Irish League is keen to be viewed as a professional League and obviously Linfield, Glentoran and Larne have gone down that route and to an extent Crusaders as well.

Therefore the clubs have a responsibility to their players, fans and NIFL as a whole to follow their business plans — being honest and transparent — and be judged on that. In any other business, that’s how things operate.

I don’t think it is fair to penalise the players if the clubs can afford it and want to pay a certain rate for a weekly wage.

On average in England, a professional footballer’s career lasts eight years. So that player, for all the sacrifices he makes to be a professional footballer, will get paid just 96 times if we’re talking a monthly basis. If that’s the case in the Irish League and a player earns, say, £500 a week, then for the duration of his career he will only receive £208,000 before tax.

Not a lot of money, so you can see why the players in the Irish League are pushing for as big a salary as possible and if the clubs can afford it, then I say they have every right to pay it.

If a big transfer fee is involved then the beauty recently is that it stays in the Irish League and hopefully makes the likes of Ballymena and Portadown stronger.

Yes, it can be frustrating for fans to watch a player be nurtured and developed only to see them move on to a bigger club, but that’s football and hopefully the money can be used to form academies capable of producing the next top players.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s strop not a good look, but he’s only venting frustration

Cristiano Ronaldo’s tantrum after being taken off against Brentford on Wednesday night wasn’t a good look.

But that’s what you get with a world-class talent such as Ronaldo when he is deeply frustrated.

A player like Ronaldo expects only the best from himself and his team-mates. When that doesn’t materialise, you get the stroppy showing the other night.

Manchester United may have won 3-1 at Brentford, but that only covered the cracks of a broken team and Ronaldo knows it.

It was interesting to hear him say recently how difficult it is to speak to younger players these days as they don’t take it in and there is a big difference in attitudes from, say, when he was making it in the game.

I can totally relate to that and have serious concerns that today’s British players are so wrapped up in cotton wool that there will be no fight left in them for a competitive game.

Even though I finished playing a few years ago and am now embarking on a coaching career, I’m still learning and I would say Ronaldo, even though he is the greatest player of the modern era, is still learning new aspects of the game.

United, under Ralf Rangnick, want to play a style that simply doesn’t suit Ronaldo, the pressing game.

Teams have always planned around Ronaldo and so this is completely alien to him. But then in Spain and Italy, he always delivered.

That’s not the case here, and I think you have him venting his frustrations at the situation and the form of some of his team-mates.


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