May 24, 2016 / 2:06 AM / a year ago

Soccer-Northern Ireland's Superman packs Euro 2016 punch

LONDON, May 24 (Reuters) - Kyle Lafferty's goal-scoring exploits not only helped to secure Northern Ireland a place at Euro 2016 and make him a firm fan favourite, they also earned the 28-year-old comparisons with a superhero.

"Big Kyle" struck seven times in nine appearances in qualifying for the finals to fire Northern Ireland to first place in Group F ahead of Romania and Hungary and their debut appearance at the European Championship.

The Enniskillen-born striker's form was such that he was hailed as Superman by Northern Ireland's two-time World Cup player Billy Hamilton.

In reality he bears greater comparison with former Northern Ireland forward David Healy.

Like Healy, Northern Ireland's all-time leading marksman with 36 goals and who scored famous winners against Spain and England, Lafferty has shone in the green shirt of his country despite falling short in his club career.

In February, he left Norwich City to join Birmingham City on loan until the end of the season, making the Midlands club his eighth since turning professional as an 18-year-old with Burnley in 2005.

His most successful club stint came with Rangers in Glasgow, where he netted 38 times in 138 games before leaving when the Scottish club went into liquidation in 2012, but despite stints in Switzerland, Italy and Turkey, his club career has been underwhelming.

That runs in direct contrast with his form for Northern Ireland. Often leading the line on his own, Lafferty has pitched in with important and dramatic goals, none more so than the injury-time equaliser against Hungary in October that kept the side's qualification campaign on track.

Despite his importance to the team and manager Michael O'Neill, Lafferty has the humility to appreciate he is not guaranteed a place in the starting line-up when Northern Ireland make their Euro debut in June.

"What I did in the qualifiers doesn't mean I am going to start," Lafferty said recently. "I still have to give my all and show Michael I am still hungry and am the right man to lead the line when the first game comes in France." (Editing by Neil Robinson)

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