NORTHERN Ireland striker Kyle Lafferty is desperate to put his international career back on track after enduring a torrid six months.
The former Rangers forward – currently playing in Italy with Serie B leaders Palermo – started the World Cup qualifying campaign as manager Michael O’Neill’s first choice but ended it goalless and watching his team-mates from home.
Lafferty’s last appearance for his country came in September’s 4-2 defeat by Portugal, a match that saw the 26-year-old sent off just 13 minutes after arriving as a substitute. The subsequent suspension effectively ended his campaign – he was available for the trip to Israel but left on standby – and the birth of his second child saw him miss November’s trip to Turkey.
Lafferty is, however, back for tomorrow’s friendly in Cyprus and accepts he has a serious point to prove. “You’re only as good as your last game and in my last game I was sent off. I had a nightmare,” he said. “I let the lads and the fans down. It was probably down to being too eager. I was disappointed not to start the match and when you come off the bench you want to do the best you can.
“But I was only the pitch about 30 seconds when (Cristiano) Ronaldo scored and I was supposed to be marking him, then I lunged into a tackle and got sent off. It was a disappointing night.
“To finish the campaign with no goals is a frustration on my own behalf so for the next one I’ll be psyched up and hoping to give more to the team.”
To do so, Lafferty must persuade O’Neill he is ready to make a more consistent contribution.
The former Shamrock Rovers manager was furious with Lafferty’s red card at Windsor Park and has been critical of the striker’s overall impact during his time in the job.
While never likely to be exiled from the squad for long – Lafferty is too talented and resources too thin for that to be the case – his previous status as a certain starter has been challenged by the likes of Martin Paterson and Jamie Ward in recent months. It is a point that is not lost on the player, who is eager to earn the shirt again.
“I think Michael’s had his say and I’m disappointed with my own performances in some of the games,” he said. “We’ve spoken about it, Michael still thinks I can offer a lot and I think I can too, but we’ve got three or four strikers now fighting for the place and that’s good for competition. I want to show Michael I’m still good enough for the team, that I’m still here and he can rely on me if I’m called upon.”
Lafferty’s club form is unlikely to do him any harm, as he has eight goals to his name in Palermo’s charge to the head of the Serie B promotion race. Palermo is going well. I’m enjoying my football again.”