Belfast Telegraph

Serbia v Northern Ireland: Forget those who won’t play for us, says skipper Baird

By Graham Luney

Chris Baird feels Northern Ireland fans should forget about the FIFA eligibility ruling and cheer the players on to the Euro 2012 finals in Poland and Ukraine.

Players from Northern Ireland can elect to play for the Republic of Ireland if they haven’t gained a senior competitive international cap but Baird feels it’s not worth losing sleep over players not committed to the cause.

Instead, the Rasharkin man believes the Northern Ireland squad is good enough to qualify for a major tournament and there is no time like the present.

Baird will wear the captain’s armband against Serbia tomorrow, a reward for reaching the special milestone of his 50th cap.

The 29-year-old will become the 30th player to hit the illustrious 50-club and it will be his fourth game as skipper, after leading the side out against Leichenstein, Latvia and Iceland in 2007.

As well as performing as a vital defensive shield in front of a back four on the international stage, his club career has also taken off and a new contract keeping him at Craven Cottage until at least the summer of 2013 underlines his continued progress.

Northern Ireland fans have got hot under the collar about the players who have slipped through the net, such as Darron Gibson, Shane Duffy and Marc Wilson, while Preston-born Adam Barton was called up to the Republic of Ireland Under-21 side to face Portugal after failing to pledge his allegiance to Northern Ireland, despite playing against Morocco in a friendly.

But Baird feels career choices should be respected and there is no point in being angry about the players that got away.

“It’s up to any player what he wants to do but if they aren’t committed then we can carry on without them,” said Baird.

“Nobody can change a player’s mind. If it’s not right for them, it’s not right. If he wants to move on then fair enough. It’s down to him at the end of the day.

“We aren’t the biggest country and we don’t have many to pick from but we are privileged to have the players we do have and we’re fully focused on the job. This is a good team with talented players and good personalities.

“Hopefully we can qualify for the Euro 2012 finals and show everyone that we are good team. Why can we not qualify? We have seen Slovenia make it to the World Cup finals after we pushed them all the way.

“If we can stay unbeaten after these two games we have got every chance.”

Anyone who questions the importance of the captain’s armband should follow the storm generated by John Terry being handed it back by England boss Fabio Capello.

Baird, in contrast, likes to stay away from the spotlight and let his football do the talking.

Since making his debut in a 2-0 defeat to Italy in June, 2003, the Fulham defender has put himself where it hurts for Northern Ireland.

He added: “Leading the team out is a great honour but don’t expect me to score a goal to mark the occasion. I’ve never done it before, but you never know.

“Aaron (Hughes) can lead the team out again on Tuesday but it will be a very proud moment for me, one I’m really looking forward to.

“I’ve got some great memories with Northern Ireland, beating Spain and England, Sweden and Denmark, but the big down is not qualifying for a major finals.

“But I’ve enjoyed every minute of it and it’s an important occasion, a real privilege for me. I’m always focused on what I have to do for the team, so while the armband gives me added responsibility, I’ve always had the attitude of giving everything I’ve got to get the right result.

“I know what to expect as I’ve had the captaincy before, but it’s a great honour to lead the boys out.”

Belfast Telegraph


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