Belfast Telegraph

Chris Baird: I'm retiring from Northern Ireland on a high with great memories

By Steven Beacom

Northern Ireland star Chris Baird insists he is leaving the international scene with a host of happy memories after deciding to retire before the 2016 World Cup qualification campaign begins next month.

Baird spoke with his family at length ahead of deciding to step away from playing for Northern Ireland after winning 79 caps in an international career that started in 2003.

The 34-year-old had tough times in the green shirt but as he announced his decision to concentrate on his club duties with Derby County, Baird preferred to reflect on victorious occasions such as when he played in David Healy-inspired successes over England and Spain at Windsor Park and qualification for the Euro 2016 finals, which he described as the "icing on the cake".

A versatile and committed performer, Baird's final game for Northern Ireland came during the summer against Poland in Nice.

He said: "It was a tough decision because I have enjoyed every single minute that I have played for Northern Ireland.

"I discussed it with my family and as I am not getting any younger I felt it was the right thing to do at this stage.

"Qualification for Euro 2016 was the icing on the cake for my international career, but I have so many fantastic memories, like the win over England and beating Spain.

"I am fortunate to have lined out with some great players over the past 13 years and I would like to thank the managers, coaches and Irish FA staff that I have worked with over that time.

"I would also like to thank the Northern Ireland fans who have been absolutely tremendous. It is true - they are the best supporters in the world."

Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill, who cleverly used the canny Baird in a holding midfield role, said: "Chris has been an absolute rock for me in the four years that I have been in charge. His defensive qualities, his reading of the game and his experience have been invaluable, especially in our Euro 2016 qualification campaign.

"In addition to his football ability, he is also a fantastic person and we will miss him around the squad.

"Chris has been a tremendous servant to Northern Ireland. I fully respect his decision to retire from international football at this stage and I wish him every success as he continues his highly successful club career."

While not one to grab headlines, Baird was hugely respected in the Northern Ireland dressing room for his selfless work and football knowledge.

Northern Ireland skipper Steven Davis, who roomed with the former Southampton, Fulham and West Brom ace, offered this warm tribute: "Chris is a close friend of mine and was my room-mate on international trips so it is sad to see him retire.

"He's the type of player that when you play with him you appreciate what he does for the team. His experience and positioning snuffed out many attacks from our opponents and gave other players in the team freedom to play as you knew he would always be covering. He was also good technically and able to find passes between the lines.

"He has been a great servant for Northern Ireland over the years and will be missed both on and off the pitch."

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph