Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis: We are ready to give the fans our very best for Euros

I am so proud to be the captain of Northern Ireland at Euro 2016. It's amazing to think that I am going to be the fourth player to skipper our country at a major tournament.

To follow in the footsteps of great names like Danny Blanchflower, Martin O'Neill and Sammy McIlroy, who captained Northern Ireland at World Cups in 1958, 1982 and 1986 respectively, is an incredible honour for both me and my family.

Throughout our Euro qualifying campaign I was asked about the possibility of going to France and now that we are finally here it is fantastic.

On Sunday we will face Poland in Nice in our first Group C match.

My wife Tracey and our two beautiful daughters, Chloe and Kaia, will be there along with my dad David and brother Richard, as well as other family members.

More: Euro 2016: Northern Ireland's Steven Davis says late mum 'would be so proud of me as I lead team out in France'

It is going to be a special occasion for us all.

I'll also be thinking about my mum, Laura, who sadly passed away eight years ago.

I know she would be very proud of me leading the team out in a major tournament.

My mum was my biggest fan in the stands. When we qualified for the finals last year I dedicated my goals to her because she meant so much to me.

She was a huge influence in my career and my life and it will be lovely to think that she will be looking down on me, cheering us on.

It'll be great to have my family at the match. They all mean the world to me.

I have been away from home for a few weeks now and I know they are excited about coming out to the games.

The players are all excited too. Our build-up has been excellent. We have had great training camps and even had Rory McIlroy come to meet us at Carton House.

More: Niall has new goal in mind after making the right call

It was great to have Rory there. We enjoyed it and I think he enjoyed it too. It was fantastic to have someone of that calibre coming to see us.

Once we got to France last weekend we were warmly welcomed. The people have been really good to us and our hotel and the training facilities are brilliant. The IFA have done very well.

At the hotel we have a games room where you can play table tennis, darts and pool. I am a darts and pool man myself.

The thing is now though we are just itching to play the football matches, starting with Poland on Sunday.

I'm sure our fans feel the same.

They have been waiting for this a long time...30 years!

I think the fact that we have never qualified for the European Championships before makes this tournament feel extra special and I know our supporters are coming out in huge numbers to back us.

Our fans always have a huge role to play. No one should ever underestimate the lift they give us.

More: Captain marvel Davis is best man NI could hope for to lead Euro charge

They really can push us on in games and never more so than at home to Hungary in the qualifying campaign.

We were losing 1-0, were out on our feet and down to 10 men and they kept us going and played a massive part in us getting a late equaliser through Kyle Lafferty. It was so crucial at that stage in the campaign.

No matter where they go and how many numbers travel our fans always make themselves heard.

I'm sure the atmosphere will be something else in Nice.

We know they will support us with all they have got and we want to make the tournament as enjoyable for them as possible.

My first time abroad was actually in France when I was just a young boy and lucky enough to be picked for a Northern Ireland Select side to play in a four team tournament prior to the 1998 World Cup.

To be back as captain of my country 18 years later at a competition as big as Euro 2016 is the stuff of dreams.

I remember the first Euro tournament I watched. It was Euro 96 when England reached the semi-finals. Paul Gascoigne was a big hero of mine as a kid so it was fun watching him back then.

Now we are here ready to play on the big stage ourselves.

We got an idea about the media scrutiny we would be facing at a media day in Carton House near Dublin during a training camp, but it has gone up a few levels since arriving in France and we know millions around the world will be watching us when we play Poland, Ukraine and the world champions Germany in the tournament.

Even going into the stadium to play the games I'm sure there will be a few nerves, which isn't something I usually get playing for Northern Ireland or Southampton because I've been playing so long.

We do realise that we are on a different level now and we are trying to enjoy it and take it all in, but I don't think anyone really knows what to expect. It is going to be an unbelievable experience and I want to take as much from it as I can.

That may be difficult because there is so much going on, but we want to try and enjoy it and do ourselves justice out on the pitch.

We are going out there to get good results. This is not a holiday for us.

Poland will be tough opposition and of course in Robert Lewandowski they have one of the best strikers in the world but we have a fantastic manager in Michael O'Neill and he will have us well drilled and prepared for the challenge.

We are going into the Poland game believing we can get a positive result out of it.

We are 12 matches unbeaten entering this tournament and want to keep that run going and make a great start to Euro 2016.

People may have us down as the underdogs in our group but our aim is to reach the knockout stages and take it from there.

I know the country is behind us every step of the way and I'd like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has sent messages on Twitter or elsewhere to me and the team wishing us well in France. It means a lot to all of us.

I had a text message wishing us all the best from Graeme McDowell which was really nice and a letter from Darren Clarke (above) too.

It was a lovely touch from Europe's Ryder Cup captain. I really appreciated receiving that letter. He said he had watched us in qualifying and that it was great to see what we achieved and to go out and enjoy it. That's what we intend to do.

What is certain is that we will give our very best to the manager, each other and our fantastic supporters throughout the Euro 2016 finals.

Belfast Telegraph