Norwich City’s Kyle Lafferty ready to go through the pain barrier for Northern Ireland
- Credit: PA
Norwich City striker Kyle Lafferty is ready to run through a 'brick wall' for Northern Ireland at Euro 2016.
The 28-year-old suffered a training ground injury scare on Tuesday when he limped out of a session with a groin problem. Lafferty also made an early exit from his country's final warm-up game against Slovakia with a calf injury, but the out-of-favour Canaries' forward aims to lead Northern Ireland into battle in Sunday's opener against Poland.
'What Michael (O'Neill) says to me every game gives me belief and makes me feel like I want to run through a brick wall for him,' he said. 'The belief he gives me that I can go out and score against anyone is amazing. The way he's man-managed me in the last two years has been superb. I've always given 110pc for Northern Ireland, for my country. I'll never throw in the towel. I came close to it, but I decided I couldn't because I love playing for them and scoring a goal for them is the best feeling ever.
'Seeing young boys wearing your country's shirt with your name on it is the best feeling you can probably have. To go on to be the second-highest goalscorer of all time is a massive feeling for me.'
O'Neill was quick to allay fresh injury concerns over his talisman.
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'It's fine, it's precautionary, we have no major concerns there,' he said. 'It's a little twist, but on examination we don't expect any major issues at all. We're just being careful. 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.'
Northern Ireland face a daunting group that includes World Champions Germany and Ukraine as well as the Poles but Lafferty is not fazed by the challenge ahead.
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'I don't think we're going there just to make up the numbers. It's going to be hard, I think everyone knows that, but we've proved that we can play against top teams; that's probably when we've been at our best, against England, Spain, Sweden. To do that in three consecutive games will be hard, but we want to go out there and progress through the group stage.'
Lafferty believes the exploits of O'Neill's squad have whipped up expectation levels.
'The fans have been absolutely superb,' he said. 'The game I remember is Hungary at home (Lafferty scored to earn a point in stoppage time). Maybe three or four years ago, the stadium would have been half-empty by then.
'But they believed we could get something out of the game – and we did. Seeing them celebrate after the final whistle, going round the pitch and looking at the smiles on their faces was an incredible feeling that will live with me forever.'