The man whose goals propelled Northern Ireland through qualifying, Kyle Lafferty talks to UEFA.com about running through brick walls, playing to 45 and the belief of a nation.
Article top media content
UEFA.com: How excited are you that your name has gone down in history, alongside some of Northern Ireland's best?
Kyle Lafferty: Obviously hearing you say that is an amazing feeling. I do think what we've achieved is amazing. Some of the players that represented Northern Ireland have been given a chance to represent their country at an amazing tournament … we have made history, and it's the heart and determination that we've shown that has got us there.
UEFA.com: You credit manager Michael O'Neill with so much. Why is that, and how do you plan on repaying him?
Lafferty: Winning the Euros! No ... what Michael says to me every game before I go out to warm up, it gives me belief and makes me feel like I want to run through a brick wall for him 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.
UEFA.com: The fans have created an amazing atmosphere at Windsor Park and away from home …
Lafferty: Yes, the fans have been absolutely superb. The game I remember is Hungary at home [when Lafferty snatched a point in added 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.
UEFA.com: Do you feel that as a team you've united the nation in support of you?
Lafferty: Yes, I think so. It's been a long time coming. We've been close a few times, but it blew up whenever anyone mentioned qualifying for a tournament. But we managed to do it, and now, even walking around and going into town for a coffee, fans come up to us. The belief in the whole country is amazing.
UEFA.com: Have you had a real opportunity to gauge the enormity of what you've achieved?
Lafferty: No, not at all. People fuss about us now – but in a good way! It's exciting. The amount of fans that are coming, who've booked two weeks off work ... you get the feeling they're willing to do anything they can to see their country at a major tournament.
UEFA.com: How does it feel to represent Northern Ireland?
Lafferty: I've always given 110% 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 myself.
UEFA.com: So you're never going to officially retire?
Lafferty: No I don't think so. I'll play until I'm about 45 if Michael picks me!
UEFA.com: What would you class as a success in France?
Lafferty: 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.
UEFA.com: If the trophy was in front of you now, what would you say to it?
Lafferty: See you soon!