Michael O'Neill hails Rangers' Kyle Lafferty for overcoming demons

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Northern Ireland manager Michel O'Neill has praised Rangers striker Kyle Lafferty for battling his gambling addiction and reinventing himself as a footballer.

Speaking ahead of Rangers opening Europa League fixture against Villarreal, O'Neill described the difference he saw in the number 11 following the recent birth of his second child.

Michael O'Neill has praised Kyle Lafferty for getting his career and life back on track (Photo:SNS)

Michael O'Neill has praised Kyle Lafferty for getting his career and life back on track (Photo:SNS)

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He told Sportsmail: "I know Kyle Lafferty is in a really good place right now.

"I definitely detect that he's more content. During the international break he was at the hotel with Vanessa and Sienna, his new baby daughter, and he looked very happy.

"He's been very open about with his battle with gambling and it's great to see he seems to be on top of that now.

"Footballers can get bored when they don't play and Kyle spent three years at Norwich when he was earning decent money but not playing too much football.

"But he went on to rebuild himself in a year at Hearts, which is a credit to Kyle and a credit to Hearts as well."

'Hearts was the right move'

Lafferty recently completed a move from league leaders Hearts to Rangers after an impressive campaign which saw him score 12 league goals.

Michael O'Neill rclaimed that the move to Tynecastle Park was ideal for the striker.

"Hearts was the right move at the right time for Kyle but his ambition has always been to get back to Rangers.

"If you had given Kyle a choice of where in the world he wanted to play his football, there would be no other place for him than Rangers.

"Now he is back at Ibrox I do see a boy that is content, focused and hungry to make the most of it.

"Kyle definitely has the potential to be a really big player for Rangers - in Europe as well as domestically,'

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O'Neill also believes that Lafferty's advancing years have seen him mature as a footballer and become content with life.

He said: "I do think once you hit 30 or 31 you start to think a bit differently about the game and about your career.

"I think he understands that he is not going to play every single game (for club and country). The key is when you do play to try and have a real impact, from the start or off the bench.

"Kyle has already shown how hungry he is to do that at Rangers. I watched his debut at Motherwell and he was excellent, scoring twice in a 3-3 draw.

"And he played well for us against Bosnia-Herzegovina before we rested him for the friendly with Israel.

"Look, Kyle still has his moments but there is nothing wrong with that. When you are in a hotel for 10 days with the national team it's good to have a guy like that who brings a bit of life to proceedings.

"But I do think Kyle is a more content with life now. And that can only be good for Rangers and Northern Ireland."