Former Northern Ireland striker David Healy has backed the transformed Kyle Lafferty to flourish in France and close the gap on his all-time goals record at Euro 2016.
The 28-year-old netted seven times in qualification to fire Michael O’Neill’s men to a first major tournament since 1986 and, despite being used sparingly by Norwich this term, he will carry his country’s hopes on his shoulders in France.
By his own admission on Tuesday, Lafferty “took the p**s” in his early international meet-ups when Healy, who shares the record for the most goals in a European qualification campaign with Robert Lewandowski, shouldered the burden of being Northern Ireland’s talisman.
However, beneath that clown guise, Healy recognised his strike-partner’s talent and credits O’Neill for instigating the heart-to-heart after Lafferty was sent off in a 2014 World Cup qualifier that produced a change in his attitude.
“He’s got all the talent in the world; he’s an international talent and I know because I played with him for Northern Ireland and spent 13 months in Glasgow with him at Rangers,” Healy said.
“He was one that Michael turned around. He had a disappointing campaign in the previous campaign and then spoke to Michael. He made him aware of his responsibilities and you can see the change in Kyle’s attitude.
“He was a big success story, scored seven goals in qualifying and was one of the main reasons why Northern Ireland qualified.
“Kyle will relish it going into the Euros, he’s fit and free from injury and can be the marksman. Northern Ireland should be going there with no pressure and will hopefully enjoy it.
“It’s the first time a team from pot five actually topped the (qualifying) group so they should be full of confidence with nothing to fear.”
As he closes on a 50th cap for his country, Lafferty stands second on the all-time goals list, 20 behind Healy, with the two sharing a similar goals-per-game ratio.
Should he eventually surpass his old colleague’s total, Healy will be among the most delighted supporters.
“Records are there to be broken,” he added.
“I was fortunate enough to play for Northern Ireland but I grew up in Belfast supporting Northern Ireland so I want people to achieve good things for Northern Ireland.
“Kyle’s in the process of hopefully denting my goal-scoring record. He might beat it, he might not beat it, but I certainly wish him well.”
Now a manager with Linfield, Healy can also fully appreciate the job O’Neill has done in not only delivering success, but helping to change the mindset of a country whose players tended to go through the motions in previous qualifying campaigns.
“He’s given players confidence, a belief that every time they play they’re not just turning up,” said Healy, who was speaking on behalf of Currys PC World.
“I played many times when I certainly felt, and maybe other players felt, we were all just fulfilling a fixture.
“Nowadays they turn up, are well prepared and very professional. Over the campaign before, Michael took a little bit of stick but he was putting in what he wanted, what the players needed to achieve.”