‘Maturing’ Kyle Lafferty ready to come of age at Euro finals

Kyle Lafferty (centre) with Gareth McAuley (left) and Josh Magennis
Kyle Lafferty (centre) with Gareth McAuley (left) and Josh Magennis

Kyle Lafferty believes he is reaping the benefits of taking a more mature approach to international football.

The Northern Ireland striker could earn his 50th cap in Friday night’s friendly against Belarus at Windsor Park.

It is Michael O’Neill’s side’s farewell game before they head to Slovakia for their final warm-up game ahead of this summer’s Euros.

Lafferty was O’Neill’s talisman during the qualifiers, bagging seven goals in nine fixtures to help Northern Ireland finish top of their group.

But as he prepares to reach a special milestone in the green jersey, the 28-year-old admits his caps tally should be greater than the half century he is about to celebrate.

“To be honest, I should have reached 50 caps a long time ago,” he said.

“Maybe in the first few years of my international career, I took the p*** really. I turned up whenever I wanted, messed about and wasn’t concentrating on things.

“The last two or three years I have settled down and got my head sorted,” he said. “I’m turning up for every single game now. I started nine games out of 10 in the Euro qualifying campaign which was great for me.

“To score seven goals was amazing and it helped the team to qualify which isn’t just great for us as players, but the country. My discipline has improved and I’m a lot happier.

“I’ve had conversations with Michael and he has made me realise how important I am to the team. I think the players have made me feel wanted as well. Both Michael and the lads have helped me and I feel the benefit of it.”

Lafferty has scored 16 goals in 49 international appearances since making his debut in 2006, but it was during the most recent Euro qualifying campaign that he elevated his goalscoring talents.

His seven goals helped Northern Ireland reach their first-ever European Championship, and their first major finals since the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.

It is an opportunity Lafferty is ready to seize, with the striker putting in the graft to ensure he is fighting fit in France.

“I have done some extra training with (coach) Stephen Robinson and I feel a lot fitter than I was in the second half of the qualifying campaign,” he said.

“I know if I’m not on my game it is going to affect the whole team, but I’m ready to go. If I’m in the starting 11, I know with our team mates, I will get chances. I feel confident going into every game now.

“I’m going to play against some of the best defenders in the world in the first tournament Northern Ireland has featured in the last 30 years and I’m in the shop window, so I will be up for every single game and I’m raring to go.”

p More on page 39