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Steven Davis can lead Northern Ireland at Euro 2020 and smash my cap record: Pat Jennings

 

Northern Ireland skipper Steven Davis
Northern Ireland skipper Steven Davis
Legend: Pat Jennings at a McDonald’s Fun Football Festival which comes to Antrim on Saturday

By Steven Beacom

Goalkeeping legend Pat Jennings has backed Steven Davis to overhaul his record number of Northern Ireland appearances and hailed Aaron Hughes who retired seven caps short.

Hughes called time on his career earlier this month having played 112 times for his country. The 39-year-old was Northern Ireland's first outfield player to pass the century mark but he is set to be overtaken later this year by skipper Davis.

The Rangers star has 111 caps, and once he moves past Hughes, next on the list will be the iconic Jennings, who has 119 to his name.

Speaking in his role as McDonald's Football Ambassador ahead of Saturday's Fun Football Festival at Antrim Rovers FC, Jennings feels that his long held record will be broken by Davis.

Asked if he hopes the 34-year-old midfielder becomes number one in the nation's appearance list, former Tottenham and Arsenal hero Jennings said: "Absolutely, and there is no reason why he shouldn't. I'd like to see Steven push on and good luck to him if he passes the record.

"He has done an incredible job for Northern Ireland as a player and a captain and there's plenty more games left in him. He is nowhere near retiring and hopefully he'll be leading Northern Ireland out in the Euro 2020 finals.

"Records are there to be broken. I missed tours with Northern Ireland at the end of the season because at my age I needed to recharge my batteries and needed a month off.

"I was never chasing caps, though I was very proud to play at the highest level 119 times and also to play in the World Cup finals for Northern Ireland in 1982 and 1986."

Jennings is revered for his international career. Yesterday was the 37th anniversary of the country's famous 1-0 win over hosts Spain in the World Cup. Gerry Armstrong, who scored the goal that night, called Pat to remind him.

At club level, Jennings also shone over two decades, winning European trophies with Spurs and Arsenal and being a double footballer of the year, playing almost 1100 matches in the process.

He appreciates more than most what former Newcastle and Fulham defender Hughes achieved in 22 years in the game before announcing his retirement after Northern Ireland's recent 1-0 win over Belarus in a Euro 2020 qualifier.

"Aaron has had a fantastic career and can look back on it with great pride, especially playing in the Euro 2016 finals," said Jennings.

"He wasn't just a great international. I felt he had a great club career as well.

"Where would we have been over the years without the likes of Steven Davis and Aaron Hughes?"

Jennings (74) adds that he is eager to watch Northern Ireland face big hitters Germany and the Netherlands in upcoming European Championship qualifiers.

Michael O'Neill's men are top of Group C having earned 12 points out of 12 against Estonia and Belarus.

"Realistically we shouldn't be able to live with Germany but you just never know," says Newry native Jennings.

"I remember in my time we beat Germany home and away in the 1984 Euro qualifiers and they had a great team then.

"They will be big favourites when we play them, as will Holland, who are coming good again after a few years when they weren't doing anything, but the great start to the campaign gives us hope."

On O'Neill, Jennings pointed out: "I thought there would have been a lot more demand from clubs for Michael but with the job he has done for Northern Ireland I certainly don't want to see him leave.

"While I'm surprised some of the Premier League clubs or big Championship sides haven't come in for him, I hope he stays and takes the team to another major tournament."

Jennings, who continues to coach young goalkeepers at Tottenham, was in Madrid earlier this month to watch Spurs lose 2-0 to Liverpool in the Champions League final. He admits it was a disappointing night for the London outfit, especially given Jurgen Klopp's men weren't at their best.

No doubt there will be many youngsters who support both clubs at Antrim Rovers on Saturday when big Pat will be at the first summer McDonald's Fun Football Festival this year.

The event is free to attend and starts at 11am with football activities open to all children in the local area until 3pm. Over 500 are expected to take part.

Jennings says: "I would encourage families to get behind the event and enjoy the amazing facilities provided by McDonald's and the Irish FA."

More Fun Football Festivals will be on later in the year at Newcastle, Dungiven, Dungannon and Glenavon.

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