BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
Northern Ireland talisman Kyle Lafferty has credited his Scottish wife Vanessa Chung with turning his career around – after revealing he was ready to quit international football less than three years ago.
The 28-year-old enjoyed a sensational qualifying campaign for his country, bagging seven goals, including crucial strikes against Hungary, Finland and Greece, as Michael O’Neill’s men booked their place in France.
The former Rangers star celebrated his 50th cap for Northern Ireland with a goal in the 3-0 win over Belarus last Friday – just six days after tying the knot with East Kilbride-born model Chung.
The towering front-man said: “I think Vanessa has played a massive part in this.
“It is no coincidence that I started to score goals. That says it all. I’ve scored more goals in the last nine or 10 games than I did in the last eight years and that speaks for itself.
“She’s incredible. I’ve always praised Michael for turning it around for me but they both deserve credit.”
As he celebrated his half-century of caps, Lafferty admitted there was a time he was ready to quit the national side.
He was sent off during a World Cup qualifier against Portugal in September 2013, just 13 minutes after entering the fray as a replacement for Aberdeen striker Niall McGinn, prompting a public dressing down from O’Neill.
After that fixture, O’Neill said of Lafferty, who was playing for Italian side Palermo at the time: “Kyle’s was a very reckless challenge, ridiculous. His team-mates deserved better than that.
“I feel he let the players down. We talk about reliability. We do not have that many players and the ones who come, we need them to be reliable and to do what you ask them to do.”
Lafferty now looks back on that game as a watershed moment in his career.
He told Sky Sports: ”I didn’t think I’d see 50 caps, not at all. To be honest, I wasn’t even thinking about the next cap. I read stuff in the papers, I also read some stuff fans were saying that I should never wear the green shirt again and it hurt. I did think about chucking it.
“I spoke to Michael [O’Neill] and players like Davo [Steven Davis] and they basically talked me out of it.
“They made me realise I was too young to quit and I’m never going to be a person to hide behind others. I’m big enough to come out and take the blame on my shoulders and that is what I’ve done.
“The more I read and the more I heard, I did enjoy going out and proving everybody wrong about me.”