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I've never thought of making early Northern Ireland exit, says skipper Steven Davis on record-breaking day



Go ahead and jump: Steven Davis is hoping to hit more heights with Northern Ireland

Go ahead and jump: Steven Davis is hoping to hit more heights with Northern Ireland

Getty Images

Go ahead and jump: Steven Davis is hoping to hit more heights with Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland's record-breaking history maker Steven Davis says he has never been close to turning his back on his country.

Inspirational player and role model 'Davo' will become Northern Ireland's most capped player in tonight's Euro 2020 play-off semi-final against Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The 35-year-old Rangers midfielder is level on 119 appearances with legendary goalkeeper Pat Jennings.

One legend edging ahead of another. Two outstanding performers who are among the greatest ambassadors Northern Ireland has produced.

Despite the Euro 2016 heroics which lifted a nation and ended 30 years of major tournament hurt, Northern Ireland experienced plenty of lean times, including in the early days of Michael O'Neill's reign, but Davis' pride at wearing the jersey never dimmed.

Was he ever close to calling time on his international journey, as others such as Oliver Norwood and Chris Brunt have done?

"I've never given it any serious consideration," he said.

"There are times you come away off the back of a disappointing result or whatever and you're disappointed and frustrated, but I genuinely have never got to a point where it is something I've seriously considered.

"It's always been a pleasure to play for Northern Ireland and be a part of the group. In the last number of years we've had a bit of success and it's something we've all been able to enjoy."

A footballer's life may seem like a dream one but there are sacrifices which have to be made.

"I've never been to any of my three kids' first day at school or anything like that because of the way international football falls," added the Cullybackey man.

"You do miss out on things, but those are the sacrifices you make and my wife and kids are fully behind me.

"They love getting over to the games and it's a great experience for them. Obviously going to the last Euros was brilliant for them, too, and it is a reward for them for all the sacrifices they make too to make it possible."

The good news for Davis is that big Pat isn't upset at his caps record being smashed. In fact, he wants to treat the man who has netted 12 international goals to dinner.

"I didn't hear that directly from Pat," said Davis. "The only time I've ever actually spoken to Pat was the morning after the Norway game.

"I was doing a radio interview and he surprised me by coming on as well to congratulate me on equalling his record.

"The talk about him taking me out for a meal came through my agent, who knows Pat very well.

"He told my agent he'd take me out for a meal if I equalled or broke his record but I haven't heard it from the horse's mouth, so I'll have to believe my agent on that one. Maybe I'll take him out to celebrate it!"

Personal accolades don't come much sweeter than this, but Davis' eyes are firmly on the prize of the Euro 2020 finals.

The winner of the match in Sarajevo will meet either the Republic of Ireland or Slovakia for a place in next summer's European Championship, which was postponed this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

"I know this will be my 120th game but I don't remember too many games when we were as dominant as we were in the Bosnia home game in the Nations League, in terms of our play and how we controlled the game in many aspects," added Davis.

"It was a couple of years ago and things have changed a little but the one thing we can take from that and the away game is that we created a lot of chances.

"But they also showed how ruthless they are, so we know it's going to be a very difficult game.

"Having said that, if we do things right and play to our potential, it's one we believe we can get a result from.

"There has been talk about them missing a few defenders. Our boys probably won't be too knowledgeable about their defence as a whole, other than the analysis we've been doing this week, but that has been based on the players available this week.

"We will be going with our own game plan but we know they have a few world-class players who can change games."

It's often said that players are motivated by memories of dark days and for Northern Ireland, the World Cup play-off defeat to Switzerland cut deep.

"The Switzerland game was obviously two legs and sometimes you maybe aren't as aggressive as you should be in the first leg because you know there's another game coming," said Davis, who began his glittering career at St Andrews Boys Club. "That was disappointing, but then there was always another game to try to put it right.

"Even if you go back to the Euros and the opening game against Poland, we felt a bit like that, but we have that experience behind us now and a number of the boys have big game experience.

"We would prefer to be playing at home because we know how difficult it is to win away in international football, but we can take a lot of confidence and belief from playing Bosnia before and we have managed some good results away from home in the past.

"We have to make sure we have no regrets. I have full belief we have the ability to progress in this tie and it's one we're all looking forward to.

"We aren't thinking about the next game if it happens. But if we could get through to the final it will be at Windsor, and hopefully by that stage there could be fans there to see it, so it is a good incentive - not that we need that."

Belfast Telegraph