Michael O’Neill leaves door open for Rangers’ Kyle Lafferty

Rangers striker Kyle Lafferty did not travel with Northern Ireland for the Nations League games against Austria and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Picture: Ian Rutherford/PA Wire
Rangers striker Kyle Lafferty did not travel with Northern Ireland for the Nations League games against Austria and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Picture: Ian Rutherford/PA Wire
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Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill has left the door open for Kyle Lafferty to return to international football but made it clear he is deeply unhappy with the Rangers striker’s withdrawal from his squad.

O’Neill’s plans for this weekend’s crunch Nations League matches against Austria and Bosnia and Herzegovina were disrupted by a late-night phone call from Lafferty on Sunday, with the 31-year-old pulling out of the squad hours before they flew to Austria for a training camp.

Lafferty, pictured, cited an Achilles injury in his conversation with O’Neill but Rangers have said they were happy for the player to travel – with the situation appearing to jeopardise his international future.

Asked if this is the end for 68-times capped Lafferty in the national team, O’Neill told UTV: “I haven’t thought about what happens next.

“International football is a choice and at this moment in time Kyle Lafferty has chosen to make himself unavailable.”

In his pre-match press conference, O’Neill said he did not want to discuss the matter further until after Monday’s match against Bosnia.

“I don’t plan to have a chat [with Kyle] before the game,” he said. “That’s certainly not my intention before the game. My focus has really been, since the conversation, preparing the team.

“We’ll not play another international until November – so there’s plenty of time to have that discussion. At the end of the day, the player has made himself unavailable, so we concentrate on the squad we have here.”

The situation is an unwelcome distraction with Northern Ireland in need of points from this away double-header to get back on track following an opening defeat to Bosnia in the Nations League.