Kyle Lafferty insisted he doesn’t want to be known in Edinburgh only as the man who snubbed Hibs for Hearts as he set himself a target of 20 goals for the upcoming season.
The Northern Irishman’s stock level among the Tynecastle club’s support is already sky high after it emerged that he signed a two-year deal on Wednesday without even granting the Easter Road club the chance to speak to him. In a move that further endeared him to his new fanbase, he wasted little time at his first media gathering as a Hearts player yesterday in declaring that he had joined “the biggest team in Edinburgh”.
Lafferty knows he has automatically made himself a target for Hibs fans when the first Edinburgh derby is staged at Easter Road in October. However, for all that he has made such a bold start to his Hearts career, the former Rangers and Norwich City striker is well aware he must live up to the hype generated in Edinburgh over the past week by delivering a regular supply of goals for Ian Cathro’s team.
“I don’t want to be known as the player who ignored Hibs, I want to be known as the guy who scored 20, 25 goals with the first trophy in the new stand,” he said, with reference to the stadium redevelopment at Tynecastle. “I want to be known on the pitch. In my early days in Scotland, I wasn’t known enough on the pitch but I’ve been given a second chance and I’ve come to one helluva club to put things right.
“Being part of the Old Firm, I didn’t help myself to be honest but I was a young boy. Having the Celtic fans hate me, I thrived on it and it’s probably going to be the same here, especially with that has happened over the last couple of days [with Hibs]. I believe I’ve joined the right club to progress my career and get Hearts to where they deserve to be. I’ve joined the biggest club in Edinburgh and the third-biggest in Scotland. I’ve made the right decision.”
Former Northern Ireland internationalist Keith Gillespie, who acts as an agent but is not Lafferty’s official advisor, had a pop at Hearts’ new striker on twitter yesterday as he had been under the impression that the 29-year-old would visit East Mains to speak with Hibs manager Neil Lennon on Wednesday. In the end, Lafferty, whose agent is Martin Lyon, instead remained at Tynecastle and finalised a contract. He insisted it would have been wrong to have spoken to Hibs after Hearts had invested so much time and effort in trying to secure his signatures.
Asked about Gillespie’s tweet claiming that he had “disrespected” Hibs, Lafferty said: “I’m at Hearts and everyone knows Hibs were interested in me but I’m not going to waste four days negotiating with Hearts and it being 99 per cent done, then go across the city and showing a lack of disrespect to Hearts by speaking to another team when we spent four days from nine o’clock to sometimes six o’clock, to go and have a talk and come back.
“I was fully focused on Hearts and my decision was made. It was an easy decision once I saw the inside of the club and the history of the club, and even meeting Ann [Budge]. She brought a good vibe to everything and it was the right decision. Keith can be disappointed but football is football, I’m now a Hearts player so I don’t really want to say too much about Hibs.”
Lafferty doesn’t anticipate any bad blood between himself and fellow Northern Irishman Lennon. “I’ve no problem with Neil Lennon,” he said. “I’m thrilled for him to be interested in me. He tried to sign me for Bolton before but football is football. I have to make a decision myself and if I think Hearts is the best move, everyone has to deal with it.
“This year is very important for me, I want to grab the number one position back from Northern Ireland. I want to get to the World Cup with them and I want to win trophies with Hearts. Where they want to go and where I want to go match and it all clicked. I don’t have any doubts about joining Hearts and come the end of the season both parties will be absolutely delighted.”
Asked if he would be in touch with Lennon to explain Wednesday’s events, Lafferty said: “I don’t think I need to do it because I’m here with my agent. I was with Hearts for four days with my agent. He [Lennon] made an interest and there was time to speak to me before [the Hearts talks began]. I’ve chosen to come to Hearts and to continue speaking about Hibs is the wrong thing to do because I want to be fully focused on the Hearts thing. When I came to play Hibs, I’ll shake Lenny’s hand. I’ve no problem with Neil Lennon, I think he’s a fantastic manager and I think he’ll do very well this season but I’m a Hearts player and that’s all I want to think about.”