Euro 2016: Northern Ireland's Steven Davis says late mum 'would be so proud of me as I lead team out in France'
EXCLUSIVE: Northern Ireland's captain marvel Steven Davis says the thought of his late mother looking down on him will be an inspiration
Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis has told how the memory of his late mother will inspire him at Euro 2016.
The 31-year-old will lead his country out at their first major tournament for 30 years this weekend, with his family watching proudly from the stands.
But one special person who won't be there to see Davis make history is his mum, Laura.
She passed away in 2008 from cancer aged just 52.
Davis describes his mother as his "biggest fan", and believes she would have been proud to see him lead the team out in France.
"I'll be thinking about my mum who sadly passed away eight years ago," he says, writing in his Euro 2016 column for the Belfast Telegraph.
"I know she would be very proud of me leading the team out in a major tournament."
Laura lost her battle against cancer in November 2008.
She passed away a month after becoming a grandmother for the first time when Davis' wife Tracey gave birth to a baby girl called Chloe.
Her memory will add extra poignancy to what is sure to be an emotional day for Davis this weekend as he captains the side in their opening game against Poland.
The midfielder has made 83 appearances for his country and is a hero to the Green and White Army.
His eight goals include two in a 3-1 win over Greece last October which secured Northern Ireland's place at the Euros.
After that match he dedicated the goals to his late mum.
In his column, Davis again pays tribute to a woman he says was a huge influence on him.
He believes she will be watching down with pride when he leads the team out in Nice on Sunday.
"My mum was my biggest fan in the stands," he adds.
"When we qualified for the finals last September I dedicated my goals to her because she meant so much to me.
"She was a huge influence on my career and my life and it will be lovely to think that she will be looking down on me, cheering us on."
Davis says he is full of pride at the prospect of becoming only the fourth player to lead Northern Ireland out at a major finals, describing it as "the stuff of dreams".
"To follow in the footsteps of great names like Danny Blanchflower, Martin O'Neill and Sammy McIlroy who captained Northern Ireland at World Cups in 1958, 1982 and 1986 respectively, is an incredible honour for both me and my family," he adds.
Wife Tracey and their daughters, Chloe and Kaia, will be in the stadium along with his father David, brother Richard and other family members. "It is going to be a special occasion for us all," he says, adding: "It'll be great to have my family at the match. They all mean the world to me."
Davis revealed he will be revisiting part of his past as a young footballer this summer.
"My first time abroad was actually in France when I was just a young boy and lucky enough to be picked for a Northern Ireland select side to play in a four-team tournament prior to the 1998 World Cup.
"To be back as captain of my country 18 years later at a competition as big as Euro 2016 is the stuff of dreams."
Davis paid tribute to the fans, 40,000 of whom are expected in France to cheer on Northern Ireland in the coming days. He also revealed he has received good luck messages from golf stars Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke.
He says the prospect of playing at Euro 2016 will be an "unbelievable experience" - but insists Northern Ireland mean business.
"We are going out there to get good results. This is not a holiday for us," he continued.
Davis added: "We are 12 matches unbeaten entering this tournament and want to keep that run going and make a great start to Euro 2016.
"People may have us down as the underdogs in our group but our aim is to reach the knockout stages and take it from there.
"I know the country is behind us every step of the way and I'd like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has sent messages on Twitter or elsewhere to me and the team wishing us well in France. It means a lot to all of us."