Monday 19 March 2018

Laffery enjoys taste of big time

Daniel Lafferty is looking forward to some big challenges for club and country
Daniel Lafferty is looking forward to some big challenges for club and country

Northern Ireland defender Daniel Lafferty is preparing to face some of the world's best attacking talent this week and hopes for more of the same with Burnley next season.

Michael O'Neill's side take on Uruguay in Montevideo on Friday, pitting Lafferty and company against a side missing the injured Luis Suarez but led by Paris St Germain star Edinson Cavani, before heading to Chile - to face the likes of Barcelona's Alexis Sanchez - on June 4.

With both opponents making their final tune-ups for the World Cup it promises to be a tough ask of a depleted Northern Ireland, but Lafferty is eager to meet it head on.

"Where do you start with teams like Uruguay and Chile? No matter what side they put out they possess unbelievable quality and they draw their players from the top clubs throughout Europe and South America," he said.

"They're going to the World Cup and they're going all out to prepare for that so it will be a phenomenal experience and one I was never going to pull out of.

"It's a massive opportunity, maybe a once-in-a-career chance.

"When you play against nations like these - or Portugal and Russia in the last campaign - you can test your wits against the best and that helps going back to your club when the manager sees that."

When the 26-year-old Lafferty does head back to Turf Moor it will be with a brand new three-year contract and the prospect of Premier League football following the Clarets' unexpected promotion last term.

Although the left-back was far from a driving force in that campaign, making just 12 appearances in all competitions and none since January, manager Sean Dyche's decision to tie him to the club until 2017 was a major show of faith.

And for a player who was plying his trade with Derry City in the League of Ireland until January 2012, it completes a phenomenal rise to the top.

"I'm not sure if the reality of playing in the Premier League has fully sunk in yet," he said.

"I'll be pinching myself when I do. To walk out at Old Trafford or Anfield would be unbelievable considering where I was three years ago.

"It will be an amazing experience to get the chance of playing in those kind of arenas against some top-class opponents.

"It's very exciting for me to have signed a new contract and I'm quite flattered by it to be honest. I didn't play as much as I'd like this season, and only about 40 times since I've been at the club, so for the manager to turn around and give me three years, as a player with no Premier League experience, was a boost.

"There are guys who played a lot more than me this year who've been let go, so for the manager to show that faith in me is very nice and I want to repay that on the pitch in the next few years.

"In pre-season I want to be competing and fighting for my place."

Burnley's task next season is likely to be similar to that facing Northern Ireland in the coming days - scrapping against higher-rated teams and looking to cause upsets against the grain.

But Lafferty is ready to show that can be done in Montevideo.

"We aren't silly enough to think we'll dominate games possession wise, but anyone who's watched football in the last few weeks will know that doesn't necessarily count for a lot," he said.

"Look at QPR in the play-off final, look at the Champions League final where Atletico nearly won in normal time. Possession doesn't mean you will win the game, so playing a team like Uruguay is excellent preparation for us in terms of team shape and what we do without the ball.

"If we could nick any kind of result it would be a massive boost coming into the qualifiers."

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