DANNY Lafferty finally got his dream move to Burnley, the 22-year-old signing a two and a half year full-time contract at Turf Moor yesterday afternoon and he’s expected to travel with “The Clarets” to Nottingham tonight to watch his new club face Forest in a vital Championship game.
Clearly delighted to get through a medical, the accomplished left-back, will commence full-time training almost immediately and finally put an end to what has been a frustrating time for him having enjoyed a superb season with Derry City last year.
Danny, who has experienced more than his fair share of ups and downs during his career, views the move to the Championship as a major step in his career to date.
“I was naturally disappointed when going home after spending five years with Celtic but now, looking back, it was the correct thing to do,” he said.
“I had opportunities to remain in Scotland to play in the lower leagues, but I didn’t fancy that and my decision to return home to play with Derry proved the right move.
“I feel I’ve improved as a player having experienced both the League of Ireland First and Premier Division and it just goes to show you that the door is not always closed for young players returning home from English or Scottish clubs.
“Many such players give up the game when forced to return home and their hunger for the game disappears. However, when you see so many League of Ireland players now playing at the top level, with so many of those lads having been signed from League of Ireland clubs, you wonder if it’s better to stay at home and develop as a player rather than try it across the Channel at a bigger club.”
For him, the decision was positive and while he admitted that it was very hard to say ‘no’ to clubs seeking to sign youngsters at 16-years-old, the decision to go over at that stage can so easily backfire.
“It is very hard to turn down a club in England, especially when you are a teenager as you feel you have to take the chance. But those who make it through that route, I believe, are few.
“Darron Gibson and Shane Duffy are probably exceptions to that rule as they’ve done well having gone over as teenagers. But when you look at the likes of Paddy McCourt, Niall McGinn, Conor Sammon and James McClean - all joining top clubs from Derry City - plus the fact that David Forde and Mark McChrystal have also moved on to play in England, Derry City must be doing something right,” declared Danny.
“In recent years, Irish players such as Kevin Doyle, Stephen Hunt, Shane Long, Keith Fahy and Enda Stevens have all been bought by top clubs in England, so it just goes to show that players can return home and yet still get the opportunity to go back when older and wiser.”
Now a registered Burnley player, Danny is keen to hit the ground running.
“Now that I’ve officially joined Burnley, I think it’s very important that I hit the ground running. Obviously, I’m not fully fit or match sharp at the moment due to the fact that the Derry City season ended last October, but I’ve been keeping myself in shape as I feel I want to make an impact as soon as possible.
“It’s been quite some time since I last played a competitive match, so I’ve a bit of catching up to do, but I don’t think it will take me too long. Full-time training will look after that and, hopefully, I’ll start playing in the reserve team before trying to push for a place on the substitutes’ bench at least,” he added.
“Naturally, I realise it will take time to get established, but from day one I intend to bust a gut in training and then take it in stages. I will set my own targets but at the end of the day, I want to get out there and battle my way into the manager’s plans and repay his faith in me.”
Derry City will receive a transfer fee understood to be in the region of £150,000 with several add-on clauses and, of course, Lafferty also has his eyes focused on the Northern Ireland senior international squad which entertains Norway at Windsor Park on February 28th.
“First an foremost, it’s all about getting fully fit and I’m delighted that I never lost faith in my own ability. Having been over at Derby and Brighton on trial and having trained with their first team squad, I never felt inferior or anything like that. I felt comfortable in what I was doing and confident that I could play at this level.
“I never lost my hunger and I intend to give it a real go.”
Lafferty was quick to extend his thanks to both Stephen Kenny and Declan Devine who, he said, had made him a better player with the coaching he received at his home town club.
“Derry City is now widely considered a pathway to football in England,” claimed Danny. “The club has enhanced its reputation for producing quality players.
“Derry boasts the biggest percentage of any club in Ireland of selling players to England and Scotland and that has to be a very positive statistic in terms of the club’s development and it’s coaching capability.
“Playing in the Derry City first team, both in the First Division and in the Premier Division, was educational. I was playing in front of decent crowds and against decent players and, as a result, I felt I improved as a player. I always felt fit and sharp and I’ve learned so much about the game.
“And in the current Derry City squad there are quite a few young players capable of making the the step up and, hopefully, they will get their chance of playing in England as well. The McEleney brothers, Shane and Patrick, are both skilful players while Gerard Doherty must be due a call-up to the N. Ireland squad given his recent performances for the club.
“Overall, Derry City is moving in the right direction and I think that Declan Devine and Paul Hegarty will continue what Stephen Kenny put in place when I arrived and good quality coaching will continue to be experienced at the Brandywell.
“So to have returned home was an important move for me personally and having now signed for Burnley, I’ve got to push on and continue to improve at what’s a big club with a great future.”
Family Support Was Vital
The son of John and Maureen Lafferty, Danny also pointed to the important support of his family over the difficult times he had experienced as a young player and now that he is the father of a three-years-old son, Cian, he believes he has something to focus on and work towards.
“My mum, dad and family always stood behind me and helped me get through the difficult times. They’ve been brilliant, my whole family circle have been very supportive and I will always be thankful for that.
“Without that support I don’t know where I would have ended up, but I was so anxious to stay in football and, thank God, everything seems to have worked out for me.
“I still believe I have a lot to prove at this level and I would dearly love to be a part of a Burnley team that could reach the play-offs at the end of this season.
“The club is well placed to do just that and I think any team that manages to string a few wins together over the next month or so would make a big challenge to get into the play-offs.
“Burnley have been in the Premiership a few years ago and, who knows, under a new young manager and a newlook young team, anthing could happen,” insisted the Derry man.
“There are just a few points between the teams challenging for a play-off place, so a few good results could see Burnley knocking at the door.”
Describing the club’s fanbase as ‘passionate,’ Lafferty held the view that he would have no problem fitting into his new set-up and he was really looking forward the challenge.
And having watched James McClean play superbly for Sunderland against Middlesbrough on television last Sunday, he heaped praise on his former left-wing partner.
“James just seems to get better and better in every game he plays and I’ve noticed quite a few things about him now that he’s playing regularly in the Premiership.
“It’s not often that you see a winger showing so much aggression in the tackle, but he is certainly showing it in his defensive midfield role. His delivery of the ball into the danger area has been top class and I’m convinced he will keep improving and he is loving the experience,” continue Danny.
Reflecting back on the partnership he struck up with the Creggan Heights man at the Brandywell, Danny said McClean was a joy to play with.
“It was great for me as James was equally focused on his defensive and attacking roles on the left. He is a dream to play with and his work ethic is second to none. He just doesn’t stop, his attitude is brilliant and he shows no fear whatsoever. He was always willing to work hard at his game, he has a great desire to do even better and that will never change.
“James has a great attitude and he will get his rewards, he has fitted in so comfortably and everyone in Sunderland is taking about him,” continued Danny.
He believed he had to learn from the McClean experience. “James got his chance and he took it. He was patient at first, but when his chance came, he has not looked back. So I’ve got to try and do exactly the same.
“He’s performing in the Premiership like a player who has been playing at that level for the past five years - not nine matches! He appears to be positive in everything he does, he’s not only creating goals, he’s also scoring them and I think it’s fair to suggest that James has so much to look forward to, hopefully I can do something similar at Burnley,” concluded Danny.