Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 September 2014

Northern Ireland v Estonia: Hughes left too soon, says new captain Davis

Steven Davis will wear the captain's armband tonight in his 50th game for Northern Ireland

Steven Davis has emerged as the front-runner to take the Northern Ireland armband from Aaron Hughes, but he will place it on his arm tonight with mixed emotions.

The Rangers midfielder admits he would be immensely proud to lead his country into many more battles but he also feels that Hughes is stepping off the international stage when he has so much more to offer.

Davis will captain the Northern Ireland side in the Euro 2012 qualifier against Estonia at Windsor Park tonight on the special occasion of his 50th cap.

Hopefully the outcome will be more rewarding than his debut back in February, 2005 when Canada claimed a 1-0 victory.

This will be the third time the Cullybackey man has donned the armband for his country and he’s now the firm favourite to become Hughes’ successor.

The Fulham centre-back paid a visit to his team-mates to wish them future success and Davis was left thinking the Cookstown man was making a premature exit from the international set-up.

“Everyone’s disappointed for Aaron (regarding his groin injury), he’s had such a great career with Northern Ireland, the boys look up to him and he leads by example on and off the pitch,” said the 26-year-old.

“Unfortunately he’s not going to get that final game in front of the fans and it’s a shame he won’t get that opportunity.

“He came over and said goodbye to the boys which was a nice touch. Aaron could have easily played on for a number of years but he’s made a decision to retire and we respect it.

“He’s definitely been a great captain for Northern Ireland and a great player. They are big boots to fill but his successor will do the job the best they can.

“Everyone knows Aaron (pictured) is in good health and his fitness is fine, he looks after himself well but the player knows himself when the time is right to call it a day and I’m sure he’s thinking about his family and prolonging his club career. I totally respect his decision.

“The squad has a good blend of youth and experience but realistically you don’t want players to retire when they have a lot more to offer and hopefully Aaron will be the last.”

Davis refuses to take a new leading role for his country for granted — arguing there are many candidates for the prestigious post.

“I wouldn’t want to say too much about the captaincy full-time,” he added.

“There are a number of players who are capable of doing it. A number of people are already captain at their clubs so it’s great that we have that experience to call upon.

“The boys have that responsibility for their clubs and I’m sure whoever gets it will take it for their country.

“I just try to lead by example in the way I go about my job. Hopefully other people can react to that.

“I think for anyone involved in the squad, anyone would take pride in wearing the armband permanently. I’m no different and it’s up to the manager but I’d love to do it.”

Reflecting on his glittering Northern Ireland career to date, Davis admits his international adventure has flown by.

“I can’t really believe it’s my 50th cap, it’s gone really quickly,” he says.

“It’s a big thing when you make that first appearance for your country and you don’t look too far into the future.

“The time has flew in. The debut against Canada was obviously a disappointing result and performance but I was happy to be involved.”

With Italy up next on Tuesday, Davis admits the players are playing more for pride than the Euro 2012 finals.

And despite the frustration felt by everyone in Tallinn, the midfielder wants the fans to stay behind the players and manager Nigel Worthington.

“I think everyone was disappointed after the two defeats but it’s vital for Northern Ireland that we go forward together,” said the former Aston Villa man.

“We need the fans and players giving 100% and that’s the only way we are going to have success and get to where we want to be.

“Everyone in the squad enjoys working with the manager and we’d like him to stay on but that comes down to the people at IFA headquarters.

“It was a combination of uncharacteristic errors that hurt us in Estonia. At this level you are punished for your mistakes and it’s about getting pride back now.

“We know we are better than what we showed in that game. I don’t think qualification is in anybody’s mindset at the moment. We’ll just do our best and hopefully finish on a high.”

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