Belfast Telegraph

Uruguay v Northern Ireland: Steven Davis believes tough tour will provide valuable experience

By Graham Luney

There has been plenty of discussion surrounding the players who have pulled out of Northern Ireland's South American tour but skipper Steven Davis sees real value in the adventure.

Some supporters feel the travelling party will be lambs to the slaughter against Uruguay and Chile but the Southampton midfielder prefers to view the clashes as a wonderful education for the inexperienced squad.

Michael O'Neill's side take on Uruguay in Montevideo at 12.30am tomorrow morning before turning their thoughts to Chile on Wednesday.

Uruguay may be without the injured Luis Suarez but Paris St Germain star Edinson Cavani will be unleashed on the Northern Ireland defence and both South American countries are fine-tuning their preparations for a World Cup assault in Brazil.

The games offer a golden opportunity to emerging talent such as Ryan McLaughlin, Conor McLaughlin, Liam Donnelly and Luke McCullough.

And Cullybackey man Davis says all the players will benefit from the back-to-back titanic tests.

"Personally I am going to take a lot from it and I'm sure the younger players will take even more from it," said the 29-year-old.

"Of course we know how difficult the games are going to be but we want to take as much from it as possible.

"It's great to have the younger players here and if there is anything I can help them with I will do that.

"I've enjoyed all my experiences and no matter when you're playing it is a learning curve and even at this age I feel like I am learning.

"I've been playing with the international team for 10 years now and I've never had the opportunity to come to South America.

"We are playing two top teams and there is going to be a real buzz about the place with both countries going to the World Cup.

"I was a few caps in when I went to North America and actually got the opportunity to captain the team and I look back on that fondly."

Davis refused to criticise his team-mates who failed to make the trip.

"People have had niggles all season and they maybe just want to get themselves right for pre-season but it is down to each individual player," he said.

"I was always keen to come and everything has been really good.

"The travel was great and the training has been really lively and now we have two really good games to look forward to."

Meanwhile, Davis was sad to see Mauricio Pochettino leave for Tottenham, but does not believe it represents the end of the club's rise to prominence.

Saints excelled under Pochettino last season, finishing in eighth place in the Premier League and drawing admiring glances across the board for their style of play.

Such success was always likely to attract interest from elsewhere and, like their former manager, the likes of Adam Lallana, Luke Shaw and Jay Rodriguez have all been linked with high-profile transfers this summer.

Davis admits it is a tough time but expects the structure that exists at St Mary's to continue yielding benefits.

"It's a blow for everybody to lose him, you can't really get away from that, and the players all loved working for him," he added.

"He pushed us on from where we were at before he came in; everyone personally improved, results improved as well and things were looking bright.

"It's disappointing but at the same time I don't think it will affect the club in terms of progression because there is still a lot of growth left in the team.

"The club has come a long way in the last five years and the blueprint has been evident under each and every manager.

"There is no reason why that should stop now and everyone will want to get going forward to achieve our goals."

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