Having a Laff!

�Press Eye Ltd Northern Ireland - 20th March 2013'Mandatory Credit - Picture by Darren Kidd /Presseye.com''Northern Ireland training ahead of Friday night's World Cup qualifiers against Russia.'Northern Ireland's Daniel Lafferty
�Press Eye Ltd Northern Ireland - 20th March 2013'Mandatory Credit - Picture by Darren Kidd /Presseye.com''Northern Ireland training ahead of Friday night's World Cup qualifiers against Russia.'Northern Ireland's Daniel Lafferty

AS HE prepares to increase his senior international appearances for N. Ireland to four when Israel arrive at Windsor Park for tonight’s World Cup qualifier, Danny Lafferty continues to live the high life since leaving Derry City in January, 2012.

ARTHUR DUFFY reports

And having learned that his former club had been responsible for a classic “smash ‘n grab” raid on Cork City at Turner’s Cross, the former “Candy Stripe” was quick to extend his congratulations to the Brandywell side following what proved a shock result in last weekend’s Airtricity League programme.

Still keen to keep on top of things back home and, indeed, keeping in regular contract with his former team-mates, Lafferty sees the international side of his career as his next major challenge.

He now appears to have established his place in the Turf Moor first team squad under Sean Dyche, having joined the club for £150,000, so having been included in Michael O’Neill’s set-up has been another bonus for the 23-year-old.

In fact, commenting in a recent feature in the Burnley Matchday Programme, Lafferty was said to be delighted to be making his “mark for both club and country.”

The former Celtic youngster made no secret of the fact that graduating onto the international stage was always on his personal agenda having represented N. Ireland at Schoolboy, Youth and Under-21 levels.

He talked about Derry City and the fact that so many young players had opted to declare for the “South” rather than the “North” during his time as a full-time footballer.

“Derry seems to be a place where people had always been prepared to leave the North and declare for the South - Darron Gibson, Shane Duffy and James McClean - are probably the main three,” said Danny.

“I also could have had the option if I’d wanted it. I could always have chosen to go to the South at a younger age level, but I probably wouldn’t have made the grade at that time,” he maintained.

“Then again, I was never invited to play for the South, whereas with N. Ireland I have always had an involvement from schoolboy level.

“With me, it was never a sectarian thing or anything like that. N. Ireland gave me all my caps at schoolboy and youth level right up, so I felt it would be very disrespectful of me to simply turn my back on the North and then join the South just because of my religion.

“I also met Michael O’Neill when he became the international manager and I knew him from playing in the League of Ireland as he managed Shamrock Rovers. It was Michael who presented me with an opportunity to play at senior international level which has always been one of my ambitions,” continued Danny.

Lafferty was also honest enough to suggest that there was a much better chance of him getting regular international football for the North than there would have been in the South, had he opted to try his luck south of the border.

Disappointed at the cancellation of the match against Russia on two occasions at the weekend, Lafferty is now set to secure his fourth senior cap against Israel and he always looks forward to the experience.

“It’s yet another big challenge for me if I’m selected to play, and a challenge I hope to meet head-on,” he declared.

“I am thoroughly enjoying playing for N. Ireland at the top level. I’m playing for N. Ireland because that’s were I’m from. And I also think it’s good that I am another Catholic playing for the senior team. Thankfully, both politics and football have moved forward and I’m delighted to be a part of that as well.”

Lafferty’s commitment to the Northern Ireland cause has seen him sign-up as an IFA Ambassador for the “Football For All” Project, which uses the sport to promote peace and reconciliation and bring together both sides of the religious divide. And Danny was back in his home town earlier this year to promote the project in the company of his N. Ireland boss.

“Blessing in Disguise”

Life, however, has not always been as good for the local man who spent two and half months out of the game not knowing if he would ever return to it having left Celtic which he now believes was a “blessing in disguise.”

Having signed for Derry who had been relegated to the League of Ireland First Division, Lafferty regained his hunger for the game and he has never looked back.

“It was good to return home and rediscover myself. Leaving Celtic was both disappointing and very hurtful and if left me almost resenting football.

“But once I got back to my own surroundings, playing for my home town club, I started to enjoy myself again and that’s probably why I got another chance to move back across the Channel to Burnley and I haven’t looked back,” he admitted.

Having returned for a few days, expected to play in two World Cup qualifying games, Danny was disappointed that the Russia match didn’t get the go-ahead so he’s now keen that tonight’s game passes an inspection this morning.

“When you’ve prepared for a match, you want to play in it. That’s the way it is. I think it’s important that you focus on the game and try to play your way through it in your mind.

“For me, it’s the international stage and every player wants to be able to say that he’s played at international level. I’m back enjoying my football again, yes I can have my moments, but I’ve moved on from the Celtic disappointment, rediscovered myself when returning home to play at the Brandywell and having joined Burnley in January last year, life has been good.

“International football is the next step and, fingers crossed, we can continue to make progress and this level and maybe even surprise one or two people,” he concluded.

Derry City Connections

With Lafferty chomping at the bit to be involved against Israel, former team-mates Paddy McCourt and Niall McGinn will also have high hopes of making the squad while Eglinton’s Shane Ferguson will also be keen on another call-up.

And while Derry City will boast the possibility of three former players taking part, Conor Sammon, David Forde and James Clean will also been keeping their fingers crossed that they will be in the Republic of Ireland squad which entertains Austria in the Aviva Stadium this evening.