Michael O'Neill bids to allay Kyle Lafferty injury fears

Northern Ireland received a pre-Euro 2016 scare when Kyle Lafferty limped out of training on Tuesday, though boss Michael O'Neill insisted there are 'no major concerns' over the former Rangers striker's groin problem.

Northern Ireland's Kyle Lafferty was injured during a training session in Lyon. Picture: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

Lafferty, who scored seven goals in qualification to fire the country to France, appeared to injure himself stretching to make an intervention during a public training session at Saint-Georges-de-Reneins.

After going down on the pitch, he went inside for medical assessment and did not return for the rest of training.

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However, O’Neill spoke afterwards in an attempt to quell fears over Lafferty’s fitness five days before they kick off their Euro 2016 campaign against Poland in Nice.

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill checks on the injured Kyle Lafferty. Picture: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

“It’s fine, it’s precautionary, we have no major concerns there,” O’Neill said.

“It’s a little twist, but on examination we don’t expect any major issues at all. We’re just being careful, we’re more concerned about the thunder and lightning, to be honest!”

Asked about the extent of Lafferty’s groin problem, O’Neill replied: “He just twisted it a little bit there when he slipped, the pitch is hard. Those little situations are always liable to happen, no major concerns there at all.”

Lafferty had been withdrawn against Slovakia last Friday as a precaution over a calf problem and while he was in full training four days on, defender Craig Cathcart, also taken off in Trnava, did not join the main group on Tuesday as he worked off on a bike on the side.

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill checks on the injured Kyle Lafferty. Picture: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

Conor Washington, who may be in line to start in attack alongside Lafferty against the Poles, also played down fears over his 28-year-old colleague.

“I didn’t really see it, it was in the middle of possession so it was pretty frantic anyway,” the QPR forward said.

“We’re all led to believe that he’s OK. As soon as you take a little knock in training you want to step out and assess it. I think he should be fine.”

Around 500 locals armed with Northern Ireland flags witnessed O’Neill’s group put through their paces in the sunshine at their base just north of Lyon.

“It was strange but very welcome,” said defender Conor McLaughlin.

“Even driving through the town, with all the Northern Ireland flags in the windows, it gives you a feel for the country and how excited they are for the tournament.”

Those punters may not have known the identity or career trajectories of many of the Northern Irish players and McLaughlin and Washington own two of the better back-stories in the camp.

Washington was a part-time postman four years when the last Euros occurred while McLaughlin, who plays for League One club Fleetwood, made his debut two years ago in Uruguay, five days after playing in the League Two play-off final at Wembley.

“It’s been an amazing journey,” the full-back noted.

“A couple of years ago nobody would know who I was. It’s been brilliant to be a part of this group and we’re making history nearly every week now.”