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It's all about the start for Davis

Northern Ireland captain Steve Davis knows his side cannot afford a slow start if they are to reach their first ever European Championship.

They begin Euro 2016 qualifying away to Hungary on Sunday evening, with ambitions realistically trained on third place and the play-off that comes with it in UEFA's revamped tournament structure.

A low-key group, featuring Greece as top seeds as well as Finland, Romania and the Faroe Islands, appears to be in their favour - but a fifth-placed finish in their previous World Cup campaign serves to temper any excessive enthusiasm.

What is for sure is Northern Ireland cannot afford to replicate their early efforts in that group, where they took just one point from their first three matches.

Davis said: "We have belief in ourselves and this is the best chance we have had in years to qualify for a major tournament, but if we are going to do that, we have to get off to a good start.

"Everybody feels this is the best chance we will ever have. I personally feel this is a big campaign for me and if we can get off to a good start, confidence will build.

"But before we start thinking about finishing in the top three, we have to give ourselves the chance of doing that.

"We didn't win enough games last time and that is what we have to change, starting from the first game."

Like a number of senior players in the national side, 29-year-old Davis knows he is running out of chances to take the team to a first major tournament since 1986.

The Southampton midfielder admitted: "I know this is probably going to be my only chance of qualifying for a European Championship.

"A lot of the lads are in the same position and that is the added motivation, even though it isn't needed.

"I have gone close before but this is the last time a few players will be able to say it so we will be giving it our all."

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