Belfast Telegraph

It's been a rollercoaster ride, now Cathcart wants to mark 50th cap in style


Special night: Craig Cathcart, facing the media last night, will win his 50th cap in Frankfurt
Special night: Craig Cathcart, facing the media last night, will win his 50th cap in Frankfurt
Craig Cathcart with Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill

By Paul Ferguson in Frankfurt

It's just over nine years since Craig Cathcart made his debut in a rare Northern Ireland away victory.

Fresh-faced Cathcart, just 21, played a significant role as Nigel Worthington's side defeated Slovenia in Maribor at the start of the qualifiers for Euro 2012.

Playing at left-back that evening, he set up his former Manchester United team-mate Corry Evans for the winner.

Tonight, after years of heartache, frustration and joy, Watford defender Cathcart, now 30, will earn his 50th cap against the Germans in Frankfurt.

"It's obviously a long time since then, a change of manager and the squad's changed so much since then," conceded Cathcart before training in Frankfurt last night.

"Back then I would never have thought it would've gone so well, especially over these last five or six years, the success we've had, the games we've won and the experience of going to a major competition and playing against top teams.

"It's been an incredible ride, and it's something we want to continue. We've a young squad now coming through and we want to carry it on."

Cathcart endured a long period of injury agony but played a starring role for Northern Ireland during the Euro 2016 finals in France.

In the last year, he has formed a solid defensive partnership with Jonny Evans at international level, and with Gareth McAuley having come to the end of his playing career, this has helped Northern Ireland have a great foundation during these Euro qualifiers.

This evening, in bitterly cold Frankfurt, Cathcart and his team-mates will be severely tested by a German side determined to finish top of Group C, even though Joachim Low's men have already qualified.

Northern Ireland cannot improve on third place, however claiming the scalp of Germany would be a huge boost going into next March's play-offs.

In September at Windsor Park, Northern Ireland surprised the Germans with their high-pressing game plan, forcing them to retreat and defend deep. A failure to be clinical in front of goal ultimately cost Northern Ireland dear, but it was further evidence that Die Mannschaft can be penetrated.

However, the Germans, with great technical ability, showed their true class by taking two opportunities that came their way, and Cathcart knows the men in green must be wary of their incredible ability.

Premier League defender Cathcart admitted: "It's a game that's going to be really difficult. We played against them not so long ago (in September) and they're going to be a big threat, especially here at home.

"We might have to adapt how we play a little bit, but as a player these are the games you want to play in, against the top teams. You want to test yourself against the top players.

"It's not one we're going to be worried about. We want to go into the game, enjoy it as much as we can and try and get the best result possible out of it."

Cathcart could be celebrating his international milestone alongside striker Josh Magennis if the Bangor man is given the nod to start up front tonight.

Magennis also made his debut nine years ago, in a 2-0 friendly defeat to Turkey.

The 29-year-old, who has seven international goals to his name, scored against the Germans in Belfast two years ago and, after heading home against the Dutch in Rotterdam last month, the Hull City forward would love to find the net again against Die Mannschaft.

It is usually customary for a player to captain the side on his 50th appearance but, due to the fact that Cathcart and Magennis are both marking the half century, Steven Davis will continue to act as skipper.

Boss Michael O'Neill simply wants his players, in their final qualifying game, to go out and put on a performance they can once again be proud of against a top nation.

"It's very important to finish on a high note," stated O'Neill. "This is possibly the most difficult of places to come to try and get that high note. I think in all the games we have acquitted ourselves very well. We were a little bit unfortunate in some of the games. We would hope for something similar in Frankfurt and take something from the game."

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