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Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis: We are ready to give the fans our very best for Euros

Published 10/06/2016

Superb journey: Steve Davis greets his eldest daughter Chloe after qualifying for Euro 2016
Superb journey: Steve Davis greets his eldest daughter Chloe after qualifying for Euro 2016
Rory McIlroy meets the squad at Carton House
The squad salute the fans at Windsor Park after the victory against Greece
Steven Davis
Darren Clarke

I am so proud to be the captain of Northern Ireland at Euro 2016. It's amazing to think that I am going to be the fourth player to skipper our country at a major tournament.

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.

Throughout our Euro qualifying campaign I was asked about the possibility of going to France and now that we are finally here it is fantastic.

On Sunday we will face Poland in Nice in our first Group C match.

My wife Tracey and our two beautiful daughters, Chloe and Kaia, will be there along with my dad David and brother Richard, as well as other family members.

More: Euro 2016: Northern Ireland's Steven Davis says late mum 'would be so proud of me as I lead team out in France'

It is going to be a special occasion for us all.

I'll also be thinking about my mum, Laura, who sadly passed away eight years ago.

I know she would be very proud of me leading the team out in a major tournament.

My mum was my biggest fan in the stands. When we qualified for the finals last year I dedicated my goals to her because she meant so much to me.

The Northern Ireland football squad with manager Michael ONeill before leaving for the Euro Finals.
The Northern Ireland football squad with manager Michael ONeill before leaving for the Euro Finals.
Michael McGovern. Age: 31 Position: Goalkeeper Caps: 10 Goals: 0 Beacom’s verdict: Like a fine wine, Enniskillen man Michael is improving with age. Experience of Euro 2016 will make him even better.
Roy Carroll Age: 38 Position: Goalkeeper Caps: 44 Goals: 0 Beacom’s verdict: I’ve known Roy since he was a kid. Brilliant guy and a top goalkeeper. Now the Windsor penalty king, he is great for team morale.
Alan Mannus Age: 34 Position: Goalkeeper Caps: 8 Goals: 0 Beacom’s verdict: Third choice he may be, but if called upon, as he showed versus Belarus on Friday night, Alan won’t let the side down.
Craig Cathcart Age: 27 Position: Defender Caps: 27 Goals: 2 Beacom’s verdict: Has established himself as a quality Premier League defender and international. Vital to Northern Ireland now.
Jonny Evans Age: 28 Position: Defender Caps: 48 Goals: 1 Beacom’s verdict: Has the ability to have a big tournament and show why Manchester United should never have sold him.
Gareth McAuley Age: 36 Position: Defender Caps: 60 Goals: 7 Beacom’s verdict: Big G has become a huge favourite with the fans and rightly so. Huge influence and dangerous at set-pieces.
Luke McCullough Age: 22 Position: Defender Caps: 5 Goals: 0 Verdict: May not feature in France, but has an important part to play in training and be ready if required. Can learn much from likes of McAuley.
Conor McLaughlin Age: 24 Position: Defender Caps: 17 Goals: 0 Beacom’s verdict: Conor has been magnificent since being a surprise choice in the first Euro qualifier. Will relish shining in France.
Lee Hodson Age: 24 Position: Defender Caps: 15 Goals: 0 Beacom’s verdict: Clearly impressed manager Michael O’Neill in training to make the trip. Steady performer. Could get some game time.
Aaron Hughes Age: 36 Position: Defender Caps: 99 Goals: 1 Beacom’s verdict: Aaron is a Northern Ireland legend. Even when the team struggled he was Mr Consistency. Delighted he is going to the finals.
Paddy McNair Age: 21 Position: Defender Caps: 8 Goals: 0 Beacom’s verdict: Looks like a seasoned international when he plays in the holding midfield role for his country. Could be a key player in France.
Chris Baird Age: 34 Position: Defender Caps: 77 Goals: 0 Beacom’s verdict: Another brilliant servant. His vast experience will be needed on and off the pitch. Reliable when the going gets tough.
Steven Davis Age: 31 Position: Midfielder Caps: 82 Goals: 8 Beacom’s verdict: In my view Steven has become one of Northern Ireland’s greatest ever footballers. What a player. And a superb captain too.
Oliver Norwood Age: 25 Position: Midfielder Caps: 33 Goals: 0 Beacom’s verdict: How this man has grown under Michael O’Neill. Now an outstanding international and so crucial to how the team plays.
Corry Evans Age: 25 Position: Midfielder Caps: 33 Goals: 1 Beacom’s verdict: Works his socks off for the team no matter where he is asked to play. Could be a key substitute in group games.
Jamie Ward Age: 30 Position: Midfielder Caps: 21 Goals: 2 Beacom’s verdict: With his energy, this livewire often sets the tone early on for Northern Ireland. Underestimate him at your peril.
Stuart Dallas Age: 25 Position: Midfielder Caps: 13 Goals: 1 Beacom’s verdict: Like a few in this squad has flourished under the manager. Seems inspired every time he puts on a Northern Ireland shirt.
Niall McGinn Age: 28 Position: Midfielder Caps: 42 Goals: 2 Beacom’s verdict: Showed against Belarus he can make a big impact off the bench. That will be his important role at the Euros.
Shane Ferguson Age: 24 Position: Midfielder Caps: 24 Goals: 1 Beacom’s verdict: Has a lovely left foot and an ability to whip in dangerous crosses. Like a few here will be useful off the bench.
Will Grigg Age: 24 Position: Forward Caps: 8 Goals: 1 Beacom’s verdict: Forget the song for a second, if given the chance this guy can be a hit at Euro 2016 because he is a clinical finisher.
Kyle Lafferty Age: 28 Position: Forward Caps: 50 Goals: 17 Beacom’s verdict: Northern Ireland’s main man in attack. Inspirational and influential, Kyle has what it takes to be a star in France.
Conor Washington Age: 24 Position: Forward Caps: 3 Goals: 2 Beacom’s verdict: Sure to get game time at the finals, he could be a surprise element for the team. Certainly won’t be overawed.
Michael O’Neill Age: 46 Position: Manager Verdict: Michael is the manager with the Midas touch. It will take something special for Northern Ireland to make the knockout stages, but with this man in charge anything is possible.

She was a huge influence in my career and my life and it will be lovely to think that she will be looking down on me, cheering us on.

It'll be great to have my family at the match. They all mean the world to me.

I have been away from home for a few weeks now and I know they are excited about coming out to the games.

The players are all excited too. Our build-up has been excellent. We have had great training camps and even had Rory McIlroy come to meet us at Carton House.

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It was great to have Rory there. We enjoyed it and I think he enjoyed it too. It was fantastic to have someone of that calibre coming to see us.

Once we got to France last weekend we were warmly welcomed. The people have been really good to us and our hotel and the training facilities are brilliant. The IFA have done very well.

At the hotel we have a games room where you can play table tennis, darts and pool. I am a darts and pool man myself.

The thing is now though we are just itching to play the football matches, starting with Poland on Sunday.

I'm sure our fans feel the same.

They have been waiting for this a long time...30 years!

I think the fact that we have never qualified for the European Championships before makes this tournament feel extra special and I know our supporters are coming out in huge numbers to back us.

Our fans always have a huge role to play. No one should ever underestimate the lift they give us.

More: Captain marvel Davis is best man NI could hope for to lead Euro charge

They really can push us on in games and never more so than at home to Hungary in the qualifying campaign.

We were losing 1-0, were out on our feet and down to 10 men and they kept us going and played a massive part in us getting a late equaliser through Kyle Lafferty. It was so crucial at that stage in the campaign.

No matter where they go and how many numbers travel our fans always make themselves heard.

I'm sure the atmosphere will be something else in Nice.

We know they will support us with all they have got and we want to make the tournament as enjoyable for them as possible.

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.

I remember the first Euro tournament I watched. It was Euro 96 when England reached the semi-finals. Paul Gascoigne was a big hero of mine as a kid so it was fun watching him back then.

Now we are here ready to play on the big stage ourselves.

We got an idea about the media scrutiny we would be facing at a media day in Carton House near Dublin during a training camp, but it has gone up a few levels since arriving in France and we know millions around the world will be watching us when we play Poland, Ukraine and the world champions Germany in the tournament.

Even going into the stadium to play the games I'm sure there will be a few nerves, which isn't something I usually get playing for Northern Ireland or Southampton because I've been playing so long.

We do realise that we are on a different level now and we are trying to enjoy it and take it all in, but I don't think anyone really knows what to expect. It is going to be an unbelievable experience and I want to take as much from it as I can.

That may be difficult because there is so much going on, but we want to try and enjoy it and do ourselves justice out on the pitch.

We are going out there to get good results. This is not a holiday for us.

Poland will be tough opposition and of course in Robert Lewandowski they have one of the best strikers in the world but we have a fantastic manager in Michael O'Neill and he will have us well drilled and prepared for the challenge.

We are going into the Poland game believing we can get a positive result out of it.

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.

I had a text message wishing us all the best from Graeme McDowell which was really nice and a letter from Darren Clarke (above) too.

It was a lovely touch from Europe's Ryder Cup captain. I really appreciated receiving that letter. He said he had watched us in qualifying and that it was great to see what we achieved and to go out and enjoy it. That's what we intend to do.

What is certain is that we will give our very best to the manager, each other and our fantastic supporters throughout the Euro 2016 finals.

Belfast Telegraph

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