Steven Davis: My debt to mum and dad
Steven Davis has paid an emotional tribute to his parents and explained why he dedicated his goals against Greece in October to the memory of his mother who passed away in 2008.
The Northern Ireland skipper scored twice during the 3-1 victory that sparked scenes of wild celebration as Euro 2016 qualification was secured.
Davis, however, was sad his mother Laura wasn't at Windsor Park to witness her son become a history boy but the Cullybackey man pointed to the heavens after firing his country to their first ever European Championship finals.
Northern Ireland topped qualifying Group F to reach a major tournament for the first time since the 1986 World Cup and David will deservedly lead his side into battle in France after producing many of his finest displays on the international stage.
The Southampton ace's parents kept Davis on the right path, a track that has seen him become a hugely respected Premier League and international footballer.
After netting against Greece, Davis pointed to the sky and his wife Tracey used Twitter to explain it was a gesture for his late mother Laura.
"I don't score too many goals, so I hadn't planned any celebration but that was just what came to me at the time," said the former Rangers midfielder.
"My mum passed away in 2008 and she was a huge influence on me. She used to love coming and watching me at Windsor Park especially. I felt at the time I wanted to give the goal to her and it was special. Mum was great.
"My mum and dad (David) travelled everywhere with me, taking me to games. I used to play for a team in Belfast (St Andrew's) 30 miles away, which over in England doesn't seem a lot but in Northern Ireland it does. My mum and dad were never pushy parents. They always put big importance on my schoolwork. They gave me typically Northern Irish values: 'always be polite, respect people, work hard, do your best, give it your all and have no regrets'."
Davis' family and the rest of Northern Ireland, are now counting down the seconds to the Euro 2016 finals in France next June.
Michael O'Neill's side were placed in Group C with world champions Germany, Poland and Ukraine.
The draw could have been kinder but Davis and co. won't fear anyone and the 31-year-old revealed that the players never lost belief in O'Neill's managerial powers despite a turbulent World Cup qualifying campaign.
"Michael has been a breath of fresh air since he came in," added Davis in an interview for The Times. "The 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign was difficult and after a result like the 3-2 defeat in Luxembourg you question everything but the players never lost faith in the manager.
"I don't think the draw could have been much tougher. I was just waiting for Italy to come out at the end!
"Everybody outside our squad and country will expect us to go but there will be determination and desire from us to upset the odds once again. The lads love playing for the country, love playing for Michael, love being together. We can get out of the group.
"The one positive is we play Poland and Ukraine first and then Germany. So hopefully we can do enough to give us a shout of going through.
"Germany might rest stars in the final game but I don't know if that will make too much of a difference. They've got a great squad full of world class players. One of Michael's positives is his attention to detail, his tactical knowledge, the way he looks at other teams and tries to find their weaknesses and sets up against them. Do Germany have weaknesses? We'll soon find out. Michael will tell us."
Davis and his team-mates, such as striker Kyle Lafferty who will seal a loan move from Norwich City to Leeds United this week, have now earned legendary status like the class of '58, '82 and '86.
The former Aston Villa and Fulham man will be another proud Northern Ireland skipper on the big stage, following in the footsteps of Danny Blanchflower, Martin O'Neill and Sammy McIlroy.
"They are legends of the country for what they achieved," added Davis. "It's a long time ago since we qualified for a major tournament, and never the Euros. It's beyond our wildest expectations."
Davis knows the Green and White Army will be right behind them when Euro 2016 excitement reaches fever pitch in June, the action getting under way on June 10.
"We will have a great backing," he added. "The fans will be there in their numbers and enjoying the party. Even in this campaign with the stadium getting redone the attendances have gone down to 10,000 but you'd honestly think it was 40,000, 50,000 in there. There's a saying going about that 'will the last person out of Northern Ireland switch off the lights!"