Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Unsung hero Craigan dreams of team glory

David Healy has been without doubt the player of the campaign for Northern Ireland.

His tally of 13 goals - which has broken Davor Suker's record - in these qualifiers is truly remarkable.

But if you were to pick the next best player then Motherwell centre-half Stephen Craigan would surely be a strong contender.

He has excelled himself in these European Championship matches and there wouldn't be a prouder man in Las Palmas tomorrow night if Northern Ireland were to beat Spain, Sweden lost to Latvia and the dream of qualifying for the finals in Austria and Switzerland next year was achieved.

For Craigan, who will line-out alongside skipper Aaron Hughes in the heart of Northern Ireland's defence against Spain tomorrow night, is a complete team player - a defender who will go to battle for you in the trenches.

He is happy to accept the personal accolades but they only mean something to him if the team is victorious.

And the only thing Craigan has been focused on since the final whistle against Denmark has been making sure Northern Ireland come away from Las Palmas with yet another famous victory over Spain.

He helped Northern Ireland shock the star performers from Spain 14 months ago and he plans to do exactly the same tomorrow night.

"I'm part of a team," he said. "It's always nice when people think you do well and talk about it, but I'm in a team to do a job and the most important thing is the team win.

"I've always loved playing for my country. Whether I'm playing against a big team or a small one doesn't make a difference. You know, though, that against the big teams you have to raise your game.

"And they don't come much bigger than Spain.

"Therefore we realise we've got a massive hurdle in front of us. We will probably try and set little targets and hopefully stay in the game as long as we can, not fall back early and then try and nick a goal.

"We know we're not going to out-pass them or play them off the park and dominate the game. We have got to be disciplined and organised and the manager will make sure of that."

If Northern Ireland are to upset Spain for the second time in this campaign then Healy is likely to be the hero once again.

Having scored a hat-trick at Windsor Park 14 months ago to leave the confident Spanish suitably embarrassed, coach Luis Aragones will no doubt make sure his defenders give our goalscoring sensation special attention.

Craigan, however, believes even that may not be enough to stop the Fulham striker.

He said: "His goal on Saturday night against Denmark wasn't even a chance so we know if we can get the ball to him in the box he'll get something for us.

"He's been absolutely amazing for us. If someone scores over three or four games, yes, that's fine, a flash in the pan, let's move on. But for someone to break the record and score 13 of our 17 goals. - we keep talking and talking about him, but he keeps answering the questions and taking the pressure off us."