Belfast Telegraph

Friday 28 November 2014

Skipper Steven Davis is our best hope of an FA Cup winner this season

Remember the days when Northern Ireland players made regular appearances in FA Cup finals?

Sure you do, they were around the time when the FA Cup really mattered.

Between the years 1976 and 1980, Northern Ireland were represented in every single Wembley decider.

In the 1979 final between Arsenal and Manchester United FIVE players from here started the game.

Today you would be fortunate to have five players from Northern Ireland play during one Premier League weekend!

In case you are wondering those five players were Arsenal's Pat Jennings, Pat Rice and Sammy Nelson and Sammy McIlroy and Jimmy Nicholl for United.

Gunners great Rice actually played in five FA Cup finals in total.

Our relationship with the trophy continued thanks to Norman Whiteside scoring Cup final goals for Manchester United in 1983 and 1985 – the former when he is was just 18 and the latter a beauty to beat Everton – while Lawrie Sanchez, later to play for and manage Northern Ireland, headed the Wimbledon winner to stun Liverpool in 1988.

There have been lean times since. Anton Rogan in 1992 and Nigel Worthington and Danny Wilson in 1993 featured in losing sides before a young Chris Baird impressed in the 2003 final for Southampton in a 1-0 defeat to Arsenal.

The following year Roy Carroll came off the Manchester United bench in their 3-0 victory over Millwall at the Millennium Stadium.

Would you believe that is the last time a Northern Ireland player has been victorious in the competition? A decade ago.

Tony Capaldi was our most recent FA Cup finalist, in 2008 when his Cardiff side lost to Portsmouth.

Isn't it about time we had another winner?

If we are being realistic about it ahead of this weekend's last 16 ties only one man offers that possibility this year.... our international skipper Steven Davis.

No disrespect to youngster Caolan Lavery or even Alex Bruce, but I can't see their teams, Sheffield Wednesday or Hull City, making the final, even though they could overcome Charlton and Brighton respectively to reach the last eight.

The best hope lies with Davis and Southampton.

The last time the Saints won the Cup was in 1976 when a certain Lawrie McMenemy was managing them... yes the same one who took charge of Northern Ireland for a couple of forgettable years.

Like ourselves then, the south coast side are due some FA Cup glory.

Southampton are away to Sunderland on Saturday.

You have to think that the in- form Saints will come out on top.

That would put them in the last eight and with two of Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool going out at the weekend, a fortunate draw could see Davis and co move into the semi-finals and from there, it is anyone's.

Southampton have had an excellent season in the Premier League and Davis, an understated but highly effective footballer, has played a huge part in that.

His manager, Mauricio Pochettino, rates him highly so the likelihood is if the team reached the decider Steven would play.

So come on Southampton and come on Steven Davis. We want to see the Saints go marching in to Wembley on May 17.

Northern Ireland could do with another FA Cup final memory.

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