Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland hero Kyle Lafferty: At Euro 2016 I’ll be fresh, raring to go and ready to exploit exhausted defenders

I reveal why I am still at Norwich despite major interest in January

By Kyle Lafferty

Northern Ireland are going to have the freshest and hungriest player at the Euro 2016 Championships.

I know there is concern among Northern Ireland fans that I’ve hardly featured for my club this season and, therefore, it could affect my performances for my country during the tournament.

But I don’t see it like that.

Instead, view me like a player who has just finished a long hard pre-season and is like a coiled spring ready to burst into action in the first game of the season.

I’m still hopeful of breaking into the Norwich City team on a regular basis before the end of the season, but if not, I will be more than ready come June 12 and our first game against Poland in Nice.

All the players will be coming into the tournament tired, many probably running on adrenalin.

I’ll be fresh and ready to go.

The manager, Michael O’Neill, has arranged two friendlies in March against Wales and Slovenia followed by two more, Belarus and Slovakia, 10 days before the tournament kicks off.

My training is of Premier League standard and I’ll be away with Northern Ireland on a training camp, where they can work on my sharpness.

I scored seven goals during Euro qualifying and I plan on adding to that tally when the finals start.

My fiancee, Vanessa, has also played a huge role in my international turnaround and I am indebted to her.

After every game she tells me she is proud of me and that really does spur me on to go out and play even better, even harder in the next game. Vanessa pushes me to my limits and I honestly believe she is one of the main reasons why I did so well in the qualifiers. My life has changed for the better since we met.

Obviously I would prefer to be going into the tournament having played regular first team football.

I honestly thought I was going to get a move during the transfer window, but nothing worked out — there were a few stumbling blocks on every avenue my agent Martin Lyon went.

Sion, my old club in Switzerland, who I joined after leaving Rangers in 2012, were interested and my agent did speak to them. But I didn’t really want to go back and play in Europe after spending so much time away from home in recent seasons. Also, the Swiss season goes on longer than the English season and they wanted me to play one day before my wedding on May 21 and then also a few days after that. I couldn’t put Vanessa through that, especially with so much already planned.

Turkey, I hear, was mentioned and me returning to Caykur Rizespor, where I played my football last season, but that was a non-starter.

I did not enjoy my time in Turkey, I found it difficult to adapt, they didn’t take to me, it was an experience I would rather forget, and so I certainly wouldn’t be going back there in a hurry.

I would loved to have joined Leeds United and I suppose that’s where I really thought I would end up during the transfer window after their manager Steve Evans expressed such a public interest in me.

Stuart Dallas is a great friend of mine, so I was really looking forward to playing alongside him.

Leeds are a massive club and it would be a privilege to wear their shirt and play for them in the Championship.

But, sadly, the numbers just didn’t add up when it came to agreeing the deal. My manager, Alex Neill, has been great in terms of allowing me to leave, but he’s told me the club simply can’t allow me to go on the cheap.

There was talk about Bristol City, however apart from a phone call, that was it.

When the emergency loan opened last week I thought the move to Leeds would transpire.

However the bottom line is they couldn’t pay what was being asked of them.

I’m still hopeful Leeds may come back, if not, then I’ll just bide my time at Norwich and try and finally push my way into the first XI.

I certainly haven’t thrown in the towel with Norwich. I’m still a contracted player and am doing my all in training to try and force my way into the team.

All I’m looking for is an opportunity and then it’s up to me to take it.

Norwich haven’t been getting the results they’d liked so with 12 games to go in the league, the manager may decide to change things around. I want to be the first alternative.

I’m always giving 110% in training — I really do work hard. I want to play in the Premier League and am doing everything within my power to make that happen.

But if doesn’t happen I know I’ll still be ready for the Euros. And I promise every Northern Ireland fan — I’ll not let you down.

Belfast Telegraph Digital


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