Belfast Telegraph

Let's just keep our feet on the ground

By Paul Ferguson in Riga

Modest Stephen Craigan has admitted he hasn't given qualification a second thought.

On the eve of Northern Ireland's crucial Euro 2008 qualifying match with Latvia, the ever-dependable Motherwell defender Craigan insists he is simply enjoying every match in this amazing, roller-coaster campaign.

He hasn't event considered qualifying for the finals in Austria and Switzerland, believing there are a number of hurdles to jump before that can even be considered.

Craigan said: "The expectation has been there for the last two years. We don't read papers, we don't watch TV, so therefore, as players, we are shut off from it all. Well, I am.

" It is the old additive where you only look forward to the next game - stroke it off and then look to the next one.

" That's what we've been doing since the poor result against Iceland and anything after that result was going to put us on a high.

"We have all spoken about our wins, but our job is to win football matches and that's what we've been doing."

Craigan, if selected of course, is expected to be in the heat of battle against the physical Latvia side in the centre of Northern Ireland's defence.

It's going to be a tough ordeal for the Newtownards man on Saturday night, but one he is relishing.

He says: "As a defender, you are always going to be involved in the physical side of the game.

"In the last game between the sides, we had one or two chances. They had one or two as well, so there was very little between the two sides that night.

"We maybe changed the pace a little bit and got that goal through David Healy.

"But we are not good enough to underestimate anybody and that will be our mindset.

"Okay, we've had a few good results, but we know these teams like Latvia can come back to bite us.

"If we get our quality players performing in the right positions, then we will get something out of the game. That is probably the difference between now and a few years ago."

Craigan has enjoyed every minute wearing the green of Northern Ireland recently - but it wasn't that long ago he struggled and came in for criticism after the embarrassing opening campaign result against Iceland.

However, he has come back with fantastic performances in the games that matter and he is determined for that to continue on Saturday night.

"In the last few years, I have had knock backs and kicks in the teeth," admits Craigan.

" I've built up my good performances as ammunition.

"During the game, I do focus on nothing but the match. That's what I'm there to do.

"At times, I am punching above my weight. I don't need people to tell me that, I know that myself.

"I enjoy what I do - I take a great deal of pride in what I do.

"I know I'm not the best player in the world, but what I do is always give 100 per cent. Sometimes, you fail, sometimes you succeed.

"I think we all know that we are one match away from a disaster like Iceland and being brought down to earth.

"There's a number of people who I'm sure would like us to be brought down to earth.

"But I am enjoying the ride, enjoying what is happening and I am sure it will stand us in good stead for the future."

Belfast Telegraph

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