Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

Craigan calls it a day with his hardest phone call

Stephen Craigan can look back on many famous wins after retiring from international football, including when he captained the team to victory against Slovenia in his 50th cap

Retiring from international football was so hard for Stephen Craigan that he couldn’t bring himself to break the news to his brothers.

Throughout his time wearing the Northern Ireland shirt with immense pride, he’s had 14,500 fans behind him every time he’s played at Windsor Park.

His family have been his biggest fans and telling them that they wouldn’t again experience seeing him battle some of the world’s top strikers — and more often than not come out on top — was just too much for him.

The 34-year-old announced his decision yesterday after making two very difficult telephone calls. One to manager Nigel Worthington and another to his parents.

A third was more than he could bare.

“The hardest thing I've had to do was to tell my mum and dad that I was giving up,” Craigan revealed.

“I texted my brothers. I didn’t have the heart to phone them because I know how much they enjoyed going along and supporting me and the team.

“That was the hard part for me, but everything was a high for me playing for Northern Ireland.”

At least Craigan didn’t take the easy way out by informing the manager by text.

With Worthington preferring Gareth McAuley alongside Aaron Hughes in Serbia back in March — Craigan returned to the team four days later when Hughes picked up an injury — and Jonny Evans and Craig Cathcart also pushing for a place in the heart of the Northern Ireland defence maybe the writing was on the wall for the Motherwell man.

He would still have been an important member of the squad — particularly as, in the absence of Maik Taylor in recent times, he’s been the elder statesman.

His experience won’t be replaced, even if Worthington can find someone to take over from him on the pitch.

“I'm giving up international football with a heavy heart,” said Craigan.

“It's harder to recover between games and I thought for the benefit of Motherwell and my club career I had to give myself more of a chance.

“This definitely isn't about my career winding down — in fact it is the opposite.

“The reason for coming away is to try and extend my playing career as much as I can.”

Craigan played in the famous victories over England, Spain, Sweden, Denmark and Poland at Windsor, but an away victory, in Slovenia last September when he won his 50th cap, is as memorable as any other.

“Until you stand there and hear your national anthem and see your family you can't explain what it means,” Craigan told BBC Scotland.

“I've achieved far more than I ever thought I would. When you do get a little bit down or things get on top of you it's nice to go and look at some jerseys that you've collected over the years.

“I'm lucky enough to have them from Andrea Pirlo, Dimitar Berbatov, Michael Owen, Cristiano Ronaldo, Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

“For me to be on the same pitch as these guys, I've punched above my weight, but I've enjoyed that challenge.”

None of those big name stars got the better of Craigan. Indeed of that handful of household names only Berbatov tasted victory over Northern Ireland — but that was in a friendly and we’ve never been great in those, even when Craigan was on top of his game, which was more often than not.

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