Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Stephen Craigan: A true Windsor hero who never let his country down

It was after Northern Ireland had beaten England in an unforgettable match at Windsor Park.

Stephen Craigan walked towards the Kop and punched the air with just about as much pride as a man can muster.

That was Craigan for you — always giving his all in a Northern Ireland shirt. He did that from start to finish in an impressive career that lasted eight years and brought 54 caps.

Sadly, now it has come to an end, with the 34-year-old Motherwell skipper deciding to retire from the international arena.

He can do so with his head held high, safe in the knowledge that he can spend more ‘daddy time' with his beautiful young daughter Chloe.

If you were naming the finest Northern Ireland XI of all time, Craigan would not be in it, but he will rightly be remembered as one of our finest modern day servants.

Not bad for a guy who once admitted to me that early in his Northern Ireland career he had a mental block about playing at Windsor because it meant so much to him.

He soon got over that. The performances he put in during famous wins over England, Spain and Sweden were outstanding.

In those games he frustrated celebrated names Wayne Rooney, Raul and Zlatan Ibrahimovic — I reckon the tall Swede is still in Stephen's pocket from that night.

It wasn't just the big matches in which he excelled.

Craigan, a true patriot, gave 100% commitment every time, going on virtually meaningless end of season tours to here, there and everywhere when others decided they needed a break.

Establishing a brilliant central defensive partnership with Aaron Hughes, his best days were under Lawrie Sanchez.

He didn't let Sammy McIlroy or Nigel Worthington down either, even when the latter made the dreadful decision to drop him for a Euro 2008 double-header — leading to two defeat and with it, bringing to an end our dreams of qualifying for the finals.

Craigan, while desperately disappointed, was as professional as ever returning to the team to deliver more fine displays, including against Slovenia earlier this year, when he played on despite picking up an injury in order to earn Northern Ireland a clean sheet and a valuable point.

No wonder he was such a firm favourite with the fans. Also a class act off the pitch, Craigan will be missed in the Northern Ireland camp.

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