Belfast Telegraph

I am still having a ball with Northern Ireland, says skipper Davis

By Steven Beacom

Captain Steven Davis has spoken for the first time about his Northern Ireland future, revealing that retiring from international football has never crossed his mind and that he intends to play for his country for many years to come.

The Southampton star turned 32 on New Year's Day but while others at that age may start to feel it is time to wind down, the Green and White Army will be delighted to learn the inspirational midfielder is determined to build on qualification for Euro 2016 and lead Northern Ireland to other major tournaments.

Davis was speaking at the launch of a Pepsi MAX and SUBWAY campaign which will lead to one lucky football club in Northern Ireland winning a coaching session at their own ground with the former Rangers and Aston Villa star.

Earlier this month, manager Michael O'Neill admitted that there may be international retirements when the 2018 World Cup campaign ends, be that in Russia in the finals or at the end of the qualifying process.

Experienced Chris Baird stepped away after the Euros and the fear is 37-year-olds Gareth McAuley and Aaron Hughes and Chris Brunt (32) could follow suit this year.

When the subject of international retirement crops up with Davis, though, he insists it hasn't entered his head at this stage.

"It has never crossed my mind. I have always enjoyed joining up with the squad and that has been heightened in the last couple of years with the success we've had. It's actually left me wanting more," he stated enthusiastically.

"It was an amazing honour to captain Northern Ireland at the Euro 2016 finals and I would love to skipper the side to other major tournaments.

"I feel very good physically. You only have to look to Aaron (Hughes) and Big G (McAuley) as inspiration to say I want to play for as long as possible and that includes on the international stage.

"I have not thought about international retirement. I admit it's not always easy being away from your family, especially when you have young kids, but I still love the international games and meeting up with the boys.

"Everybody is enjoying the situation we are in and I think everyone wants to play for as long as possible. I know you can't go on playing forever and maybe when I get a bit older I'll start taking it year by year but I just love playing for Northern Ireland and want to keep doing that for as long as I can. I also hope that we can keep the squad together as long as possible."

Davis has won 92 caps. He is closing in on the ton which would see him join legendary goalkeeper Pat Jennings and Hughes as Northern Ireland's only centurions.

"I might start thinking about 100 caps if I get to 99. What's important is taking each game as it comes," said Davis. "I'm delighted to have played as many internationals as I have and I hope I can play as many times for my country as possible."

O'Neill has spoken about the lack of young talent coming into the senior squad giving him sleepless nights. Davis, who made his international debut as a 20-year-old, believes it is becoming more difficult for youngsters from his home country to make the grade across the water which in turn has a knock-on effect for Northern Ireland.

"It would be nice to see young faces coming into the squad and adding quality but I think it is getting harder for younger players from home to make the breakthrough," said Davis, an intelligent voice and one worth listening to in this area.

"There are more foreign youngsters coming into the English game but also kids in England are training four or five days a week at an early age and getting coaching on a regular basis.

"When youngsters from Northern Ireland come across they have to make an impact and it's hard for them to compete with what's already there.

"What I've noticed is that there's certainly not as many kids from Northern Ireland coming across to bigger clubs now so it is important we spot talent early back home and give them the channels to have a shot at making it professionally so it can help us with the international set-up down the line."

Ahead of Sunday's crucial World Cup qualifier at home to Norway, Davis has been having some fun in the role of a professional SUBWAY sandwich artist to surprise lunchtime customers in a Northern Ireland store.

The Southampton ace says he is looking forward to taking a coaching session with a team in Northern Ireland later this year.

"I'm delighted to be involved in this campaign from SUBWAY and Pepsi MAX, giving football fans in Northern Ireland the chance to win a coaching session with me this summer. I know it's something I would have loved when I was coming up the ranks," he said.

◊ To be in with a chance of having your team coached by Northern Ireland skipper Steven Davis, you can enter a competition in SUBWAY stores nationwide. Entries can also be submitted via the SUBWAY mobile app. Closing date is April 13, 2017.

Belfast Telegraph


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