Belfast Telegraph

Gareth McAuley will go down as an all-time Northern Ireland great, says Steven Davis

Gareth McAuley
Gareth McAuley

By Steven Beacom

Northern Ireland's inspirational skipper Steven Davis believes retiring hero Gareth McAuley deserves to be recognised as one of this country's greatest ever players.

McAuley announced yesterday that he was calling time on his playing career at the age of 39, having not signed for a new club after leaving Rangers at the end of last season in May.

The central defender, who will be 40 in December, made 699 appearances at club level, enjoying impressive spells with Coleraine, Lincoln, Leicester and Ipswich before becoming a Premier League star with West Bromwich Albion.

McAuley also won 80 caps, starting out in 2005, and scored nine goals, the most famous of which was a brilliant header in Northern Ireland's epic 2-0 victory over Ukraine in the Euro 2016 finals in France. It was the nation's first goal in a major tournament for 30 years and helped turn Michael O'Neill's side into the Kings of Lyon.

Legendary midfielder Davis was on the pitch that night and played alongside Windsor Park favourite McAuley for the vast majority of his international career.

Paying tribute to McAuley, the Rangers ace said: "Gareth deserves to be regarded as one of the all-time great Northern Ireland players.

"He was a key figure in us qualifying for the Euro 2016 finals and his goal against Ukraine is one of the country's best ever sporting moments. Throughout his time with Northern Ireland he was a fantastic team-mate to all the boys on and off the pitch.

"As well as being an important player for us, he's a good man who had great respect in the dressing room. I know all the Northern Ireland lads would wish him and his family well for the future."

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