Belfast Telegraph

Centurion Davis says his personal milestone won't distract from big mission

 

By Steven Beacom

Northern Ireland skipper Steven Davis insists his 100th cap will be at the back of his mind next month when he leads the team into the World Cup play-offs.

In the first leg of the win or bust tie, the Southampton star will become only the third player to reach the century for Northern Ireland following in the legendary footsteps of Pat Jennings and Aaron Hughes.

Jennings claimed 119 caps while Hughes is on 108 to date. With the former retired for over 30 years and the latter 38 in just a few weeks, there is every chance that the inspirational Davis, 32, will surpass both and become the nation's most capped footballer.

It couldn't happen to a nicer guy, although, true to form, the ex-Rangers hero says the personal landmark will play second fiddle to the team's success.

"The 100th cap will be at the very back of my mind with what's at stake," he said.

"Hopefully over the next few weeks everyone can play well for their clubs, come through unscathed and be raring to go. We'll be right up for it by the time the play-off comes around.

"We would have bitten your hand off for this situation at the start of the campaign.

"It's a great opportunity and a great carrot for us over the two games, no matter who we pull in the draw.

"It's going to be difficult with two massive games in quick succession but what an occasion to be part of and what a great opportunity it is for us."

Davis would have missed the first leg of the play-off had he been booked in Sunday's 1-0 defeat to Norway.

He acknowledged that the result was a disappointing way to finish a fine campaign, admitting that with Northern Ireland already guaranteed a play-off spot before kick-off the side were lacking their usual intensity.

The Saints ace added that it was crucial that he and the other players - Jonny Evans, Corry Evans, Oliver Norwood, Josh Magennis and Stuart Dallas - who were one caution away from suspension came through the trip to Oslo with no yellow cards.

"You're walking a bit of a tightrope and you don't want to do anything silly and put yourself out of contention for the next two games," added the midfielder. "It's never nice to lose any game and you're always hurting when you do because we wanted to end the group in style and try and give ourselves the best possible chance to be seeded.

"But it's a little bit difficult when you find out before the game (that Northern Ireland had qualified for the play-offs) and there was the booking situation as well.

"The main thing is we don't let it detract from what we have achieved. It's important we don't let the result in Oslo affect us. On another night we might have taken something from the game, but we can learn from that as well.

"Maybe we were five or 10 percent off it on Sunday. We know we have to be at our very best every time and right at it to get results."

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