Belfast Telegraph

Understated, underrated Baird was as cool as ice

By Steven Beacom

FA Cup final 2003. Arsenal v Southampton. That was the first time I saw Chris Baird play. He was 21 and it was only his fourth appearance for the Saints, and his second start.

Watching from the Millennium Stadium press box, I feared for the young man from Rasharkin.

After all, this was an Arsenal side with world class stars like Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp and Robert Pires.

I need not have worried. Baird, at right-back, was brilliant. Arsenal won the game 1-0, but it was the Northern Ireland kid who took the plaudits for a composed performance.

If Baird was nervous, he didn't show it. He was as cool as ice in Cardiff that day. It would become a common theme.

The following month, Baird made his international debut for Sammy McIlroy's Northern Ireland in Italy in a friendly. Again he was calm and collected. It was the same scenario a week later when he played in a scoreless draw versus Spain in a Euro qualifier at Windsor Park.

Without fanfare, Baird simply got on with his job... doing that for 13 years in a Northern Ireland shirt, winning 79 caps through thick and a lot of thin.

Be it right-back, left-back, wing-back or centre-back, Baird was a versatile and consistent performer for his country and was proud to play his part in famous home wins over England and Spain.

More recently, manager Michael O'Neill decided the holding midfield role was ideal for someone with Baird's experience and know-how.

The Derby County ace excelled in that position, proving to be a key figure in Northern Ireland's successful Euro 2016 qualifying campaign.

He was disappointed to play only once in the finals in France, but that should not take away from the contribution he has made at the highest level down the years. All that was missing was a goal.

Never one to be messed with on the pitch or off it, Baird, 34, didn't court publicity. If anything this reluctant hero shied away from it but while understated and vastly underrated at times, anyone who played with him knew his value to the team.

Now retiring, Chris Baird can leave international football with his head held high. He really was a fantastic servant for Northern Ireland.

Belfast Telegraph


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