Newly-wed Kyle Lafferty has credited his wife Vanessa for her role in helping transform him into Northern Ireland’s talismanic striker.
The 28-year-old reached 50 caps on Friday night and scored his 17th goal for his country in a 3-0 win over Belarus that came just six days after he married Scottish model Vanessa Chung.
The half-century landmark was a significant total for a player who only last week admitted he “took the p***” in his early days on international duty, and Lafferty has previously hailed international manager Michael O’Neill for a heart-to-heart conversation which brought about a change in attitude.
However, the forward has also praised his new wife for her influence on a man who will carry his country’s hopes on his shoulders in France.
“I think Vanessa has played a massive part in this,” he noted.
“It is no coincidence that I started to score goals. That says it all. I’ve scored more goals in the last nine or 10 games than I did in the last eight years and that speaks for itself.
“She’s incredible. I’ve always praised Michael for turning it around for me but they both deserve credit.”
The home truths from O’Neill were delivered three years ago when, 16 minutes after coming off the bench, Lafferty was dismissed in a World Cup qualifier with Portugal in Belfast.
That incident and the discussions with O’Neill and captain Steven Davis that followed proved to be a turning point, even if the 50-cap mark looked a long way off at that point.
“I didn’t think I’d see 50 caps, not at all,” Lafferty added. “To be honest, I wasn’t even thinking about the next cap.
“I read stuff in the papers, I also read some stuff fans were saying that I should never wear the green shirt again and it hurt.
“I did think about chucking it but I spoke to Michael and players like Davo and they basically talked me out of it.
“They made me realise I was too young to quit and I’m never going to be a person to hide behind others. I’m big enough to come out and take the blame on my shoulders and that is what I’ve done.
“The more I read and the more I heard, I did enjoy going out and proving everybody wrong about me.”
Lafferty sits second on Northern Ireland’s all-time scorers list, 19 behind former colleague David Healy, who last week said he hopes his old Rangers team-mate can close on his record over the coming weeks.
“It makes me even more hungry and there’s a record there to go for,” he said.
“I’m not saying I will overtake David Healy but hopefully it is something I will go close to.
“My strike-rate is good but if my head was where it is now seven years ago, I think I’d be much closer to it.
“I’m looking towards the future now and if I keep going the way I am, it can be a good future for me and Northern Ireland.”