Northern Ireland: Captain Steven Davis says squad's Nations League mindset has shifted

Steven Davis and Kyle Lafferty
Davis welcomed team-mate Kyle Lafferty’s return to the Northern Ireland squad
Nations League: Northern Ireland v Greece
Venue: Windsor Park, Belfast Date: Thursday, 2 June Kick-off: 19:45 BST
Coverage: Listen to live commentary on BBC Radio Ulster, follow live text commentary on the BBC Sport website and watch highlights on BBC Two NI (22:30 BST)

Northern Ireland’s focus on the Nations League has sharpened now the players understand its importance, says captain Steven Davis.

After eight defeats and two draws in 10 matches, with six goals scored and 18 conceded, Northern Ireland have dropped into tier three of the competition.

“When it started we didn’t know what it was about,” admitted Davis.

“We’ve seen that with other nations. There’s a play-off spot up for grabs. The mindset has shifted.”

The Rangers midfielder added: “We’ve got the younger lads to integrate into the squad and we’ve got four games in 11 days, so that’s another challenge. We want to get off to a good start against Greece and build on that.

“We’ve got high expectations of ourselves.”

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Davis ‘more than delighted’ to carry on playing

Rangers extension ‘means the world’ to Davis

Thursday night’s opener against Gus Poyet’s Greece at Windsor Park is the first game of the challenging quadruple-header in 11 days days for Northern Ireland in League C Group 2.

It is followed three days later with an away match in Cyprus and then it is Kosovo away on 9 June before Ian Baraclough’s men return to Belfast to take on Cyprus on 12 June.

Davis signed a new contract with Rangers on Tuesday and it looks like Northern Ireland supporters will get to enjoy watching him lead the side for a while yet after speculation about his international future over recent months.

If the 37-year-old plays on Thursday night it will be a 135th appearance for the UK’s record caps holder – and he insisted that his enthusiasm for representing his country has not waned at all.

“It’s [playing for Northern Ireland] like a drug for us as professionals,” he continued.

“You train all week, you work hard and you make the sacrifices to get out on the pitch to test yourself against other teams with the ambition of winning games of football and achieving something together. If you lose that then it is probably time to call it a day.

“In all honesty I was always pretty relaxed about the [contract] situation. I think as you get older you just try to enjoy the moment and get as much out of it as possible at the time, then see how you feel at the end of the season.

“As long as I feel I can still contribute at club and international level, I’m more than delighted to be doing both.”

Reviving memories of a special night at Windsor

Steven Davis
Davis celebrates scoring against Greece to seal Euro 2016 qualification

Greece coming to Windsor Park will revive memories for Northern Ireland fans of a special night in Belfast in October 2015, when Davis scored twice in a 3-0 victory that sealed their historic qualification for the 2016 Euro finals in France.

The skipper, naturally, has fond memories of that occasion and, while admitting there is not as much at stake on Thursday evening, said that he would love to repeat the achievement of qualifying for a major finals.

“It has to, without doubt. No doubt about it,” he said when asked if it ranks as one of the best nights of his career.

“To achieve something like that as a group together, that’s what we’re all striving for again.

“It was a really special and memorable night. There were a lot of emotions going into the game because of the pressure we put on ourselves.

“We knew what it would mean for everyone, ourselves as a group, our families, the nation, so it was huge going into it.

“For the game to go the way it did in terms of our performance and result was really special, especially being able to soak it in a little bit in the latter stages.

“It ultimately led to an experience of a lifetime in France, so more of the same would be nice, although there’s not as much on it this time.”

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