Niall McGinn has backed the returning Kyle Lafferty to help solve Northern Ireland’s goalscoring problems in their upcoming Nations League fixtures.
Lafferty is back in Ian Baraclough’s squad for the first time since last September, reward for scoring eight goals in 14 Scottish Championship appearances to help fire Kilmarnock back to the top flight.
A Northern Ireland side who have scored only two goals in their last five competitive fixtures could certainly use some of that as they prepare for a Nations League quadruple with fixtures against Greece, Cyprus (home and away) and Kosovo in the next fortnight.
Lafferty, 34, is Northern Ireland’s second-highest scorer with 20 in 85 appearances and though he has not bagged an international goal since 2016, McGinn believes his recent form shows the time is right to end that drought.
“Kyle’s a goalscorer and he always has been,” McGinn said. “He’s come back to Kilmarnock and hit the ground running and helped them get back in the Premiership. With Kyle, he’s not lacking in confidence as you would say.
“With Josh (Magennis) being out injured and a couple of others missing it’s an opportunity for Kyle to come in and impress. He finished the season strongly, scoring goals, and we’re delighted to have him back.
“You definitely hear him before you see him, that’s for sure. He’s a great guy to have about the place, he always has a laugh and a joke at the right time.
“I think for him he just wants to get that next international goal that he’s been craving for a long time and hopefully with these games coming up he gets that opportunity.”
While Lafferty enjoyed promotion, McGinn has come into this international break after relegation with Dundee, a cruel end to a tough campaign in which he ended his long association with Aberdeen in search of regular football only to see the manager that signed him, James McPake, sacked within a fortnight.
“It was strange,” the 34-year-old said. “I signed up with James and he was sacked after a couple of weeks. I’d left Aberdeen and within a few weeks Stephen Glass gets the sack. It was a crazy time for my old club and my new club.
“That’s part and parcel of football, managers come and go, it’s something you have to get used to and I just knuckled down.
“Towards the end of the season I played a lot of football, which was pleasing. I’m just looking forward to these international matches, being involved again this season and then looking forward to working under the new manager, whoever it is.”
While Lafferty and McGinn are part of the experienced backbone of Baraclough’s 28-strong squad for these fixtures, there are plenty of new faces too with Shea Charles, Brodie Spencer and Charlie McCann stepping up from the youth ranks.
Also included is Glentoran forward Conor McMenamin, the uncapped 26-year-old who has earned a call-up after bagging 22 goals in all competitions this past season.
McMenamin was one of four Irish League players called into an end-of-season training camp by Baraclough and did enough to earn a chance at claiming a senior international cap.
McMenamin first got word of Baraclough’s interest on the eve of Glentoran’s European play-off against Larne and, though they lost that match, the international call has given his season a positive finish.
“It gave me a wee boost going into the (play-off), and then getting over the disappointment of losing to Larne, when (Baraclough) himself rang me on the Saturday, it helped ease it a bit,” he said.
“I treated the training camp as a chance to impress him. I just went there and worked hard. Obviously to get called into the Nations League squad here is a great feeling.”