Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland Captain Davis now one of our all-time greats

By David Healy

So, how good was that on Thursday night? The country is still talking about it. From Michael O'Neill's decision-making to the performances of the Northern Ireland players, everything was perfect in our 2-0 victory over Ukraine.

We could not have asked for anything more.

First to the manager's call to make five changes from the Poland defeat and to leave out Kyle Lafferty and play Conor Washington in the front man role.

It worked a dream. This is what makes Michael O'Neill such a fantastic manager.

As a young enthusiastic boss myself with Linfield it was fascinating seeing Michael make such big decisions in the biggest game he has ever been involved in.

It may have come as a surprise, but remember Michael is in the camp 24/7 and knows who is physically and mentally prepared for the challenge and the result and performance tells you he got it spot-on.

In my last column I wrote that I wanted to see Washington given a chance up front. The drive and energy he showed merited him starting.

I thought he was one of a number of stand-out players for me.

I'm a big fan of Roy Carroll, which is why I signed him for Linfield, but Michael McGovern is the number one for Northern Ireland at the moment and did exceptionally well in tricky conditions against Ukraine.

The back four were superb with Aaron Hughes showing all his experience and Gareth McAuley and Craig Cathcart excellent in the middle of the defence.

As for Jonny Evans - what a performance that was at left-back. He was immense. I remember Jonny making his Northern Ireland debut in that position 10 years ago, but he is better known as a centre-back.

To play there and produce as he did shows the calibre of the man. I was also delighted for his younger brother Corry, who I thought was superb as well.

Jonny and Corry have become the first brothers to play together for Northern Ireland in a major tournament. I know their mum Dawn and dad Jackie will be very proud.

Someone else we should all be proud of is our captain Steven Davis.

He is a good friend of mine, but that aside, I believe he now ranks among the greats of Northern Ireland football.

I always call him the ginger magician though he tells me he is strawberry blond!

Whatever - he is a brilliant footballer.

On and off the pitch he is a super captain who leads by example and I think only gets the plaudits he deserves from Northern Ireland people.

When we were at Rangers together he was such a key player and it's the same at Southampton.

I remember when Brendan Rodgers was manager of Liverpool, I was hoping he would sign Steven so he could get a chance to play with one of England's really big clubs.

There's no doubt in my mind Steven could do a job at Manchester United, Liverpool or the other big-hitters in the Premier League.

He is a credit to the country as are our amazing fans out in France and here at home.

I was so sorry to hear of the death of another of our supporters out at the Euro finals. My sympathy and heart goes out to the family of Robert Rainey.

For Northern Ireland now all roads lead to Paris.

We will take on the World Champions Germany in the capital of France and there will be a lot riding on the match.

It will be a tough match for Michael's men but with him in charge and Steven as captain, they will be ready for it. You can be sure of that.

Belfast Telegraph