Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland v Hungary: Confident Steven Davis goes in search of historic victory

By Stuart McKinley

Steven Davis has no intention of telling his Northern Ireland team mates to keep a lid on their excitement as they approach what is possibly the biggest home international in the country's history.

Instead the captain wants to feed off the enthusiasm that is sure to be generated by the 10,000 strong crowd that will fill every available spot in the under-construction Windsor Park for tonight's crunch Euro 2016 clash with Hungary.

A win would guarantee qualification for next summer's finals in France, while a draw would guarantee a play-off place.

Not since November 1981 have Northern Ireland had so much riding on a match at Windsor Park and Davis is convinced that after winning five of their seven games in this campaign the current squad has the mentality to cope with the occasion.

"It is hard not to get caught up in the expectation and hype surrounding this game," said Davis.

"There is a great prize there for us at the end of the game.

"Everyone is just embracing the situation we are in. 

"The mood in the group is high and we are looking forward to the game. I don't sense any nervousness.

"Hopefully we can go out and hold our nerve and show the quality we have done up to now in the group."

The turnaround in Northern Ireland's fortunes in a short space of time has been nothing short of dramatic.

There were only two wins recorded in the last European Championship qualifying campaign and before the current series O'Neill had only notched up one victory since taking over from Nigel Worthington.

This time two years ago the history books were being opened to see where a 3-2 defeat in Luxembourg ranked among the country's worst ever results.

With five wins in the last 12 months it has been quite a transformation for what is, largely, the same group of players.

"Whenever you reflect on it, it's been quite a turnaround from the last campaign," admitted Davis.

"We've spoken about it since the first game in this one that we had seen signs of progression and positive signs to build upon.

"Luckily in this campaign we seem to have put everything together and things have clicked up until this point.

"It's just about continuing that and staying focused and getting over the line."

Davis won three Scottish Premier League titles during his time with Rangers - with a Scottish Cup triumph to complete a double in 2009.

He was also in the team that reached the 2008 Uefa Cup final, but a place at the Euro finals would top the lot.

"In my career it would be the biggest achievement to date," said the 30-year-old Southampton player.

"It is such a difficult thing for a nation of our size to qualify for a major tournament and that's been shown in how far we've off it in previous campaigns.

"We are on the cusp of something really special. It would be huge and I would very proud to achieve that."

Belfast Telegraph