Belfast Telegraph

World Cup 2018

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How heroes of yesteryear inspired Davis to rise to the top with Northern Ireland

By Steven Beacom

As an impressionable kid growing up in Cullybackey, Steven Davis remembers watching videos at home of George Best strutting his stuff at Windsor Park.

In later years, he would switch the television on to see what he could learn from Neil Lennon and Jim Magilton who played in his preferred position of midfield. And then, while making waves for Northern Ireland at underage level, he cheered on David Healy as the man from Killyleagh banged in the goals.

Taking it all in, Davis hoped that one day he would be good enough to pull on the green shirt for the senior side.

At the age of 20, Davis found himself in the Northern Ireland team alongside Healy. Soon he was setting up goals for the country's record scorer, including his most famous strike to beat England in Belfast in 2005.

Now he is Northern Ireland's main man, the captain, the inspiration and on Thursday will have 100 caps to his name when he leads the team out against Switzerland in the first leg of the World Cup play-off at Windsor Park. And Davis appreciates more than anyone he has come a long way.

"The first Northern Ireland star I looked up to was George Best," he says. "He wasn't in my era but I watched the videos and he was the first iconic figure from a Northern Irish point of view.

"I didn't get to see the team play live too many times when I was younger but watching games on television I would look at players like Neil Lennon and Jim Magilton, midfielders playing at a high level thinking I would like to try and replicate what they achieved in the game.

"Then coming into the squad and being around David Healy when he was in such a rich vein of form was great. From watching these players on television to playing myself and then becoming a key player was something I had always hoped to do and thankfully it has gone well."

It was back in Baku of all places that the journey began in 2004 when Davis was part of the senior squad for the first time in Azerbaijan. He recalls how pleased he was that someone he knew well, Chris Brunt, was on the same trip.

"It was always an ambition of mine to play for my country and to get that first experience and, travelling and seeing what it was all about and being in and around the group, I took a lot from that," adds Davis.

"Brunty was there too and it was nice to have a familiar face there. That turned out to be the first step on the road to what has been."

Belfast Telegraph

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