Belfast Telegraph

Euro 2016: Board games relax us and that's not Balderdash, says Steven Davis

By Paul Ferguson

Northern Ireland's star names are keeping their minds focused and have nullified the onset of boredom during Euro 2016 training camps by playing Balderdash.

The Northern Ireland squad, apart from the Premier League players who joined up a week late, have been in camp for three weeks now starting with high-tempo training sessions in Manchester, followed by a four- day stay in Carton House and this week at a retreat in Austria.

Outside the scheduled training sessions it can be a monotonous experience for the players.

However, manager Michael O'Neill is keen to make sure the players remain in a positive mood ahead of the vitally important Euro 2016 games against Poland, Ukraine and Germany and that's why he invited the likes of four time Major golf champion Rory McIlroy to join up with his squad in Kildare for words of inspiration and to put on a golfing master class.

The players were also afforded the best possible facilities out in Austria.

Team spirit and the willing to go into battle for each other is one of the main reasons why Northern Ireland have now gone a record 11 games unbeaten.

Skipper Steven Davis, ahead of tonight's match with Slovakia in Trnava, has conceded that the time has simply flown in during these last few weeks, the players are enjoying everyone's company and they are bonding over board game sessions.

Currently the game of choice within the squad is Balderdash, and as manager Michael O'Neill pointed out when quizzed on it yesterday, it is similar to Give Us a Clue.

The 31-year-old Southampton midfielder says: "We've been playing Balderdash.

"I played it for the first time last night with a few of the lads so I'm still getting used to the rules myself.

"It's been good just to get the boys together.

"You have to try and find ways to relax that work in with the training schedule.

"Basically it's a game and there are different events. Such and such happened in America in the state of what?

"Everybody gets an answer and you have to pick which one you think is correct.

"If somebody picks your answer you get points. There are some really crazy answers."

While many Northern Ireland fans would like to see their star performer and captain Davis wrapped up in cotton wool to prevent him for injury ahead of next week's Euro 2016 opener against the Poles, the Cullybackey lad is likely to play at least 45 minutes against the Slovaks and earn his 83rd cap.

He certainly wants to play and is looking forward to the serious challenge that Slovakia possess, especially considering they have only lost twice in 19 games and came second to Spain in qualifying and one place ahead of Northern Ireland Group C opponents Ukraine.

Davis says: "Considering their results of late, we are expecting a much tougher and more competitive game that last week's match with Belarus.

"We have looked at Slovakia and know they are dangerous from set pieces which we'll need to be careful of.

"Hopefully we'll get a good deal out of it and come way with a positive result heading into the Poland game.

"It's going to be a real step up in for everyone once we get to France. The double sessions we did in Austria will no doubt help us."

Belfast Telegraph