NI captain Steven Davis focussed on winning, not being a centurion

Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis will win his 100th cap against Switzerland on Thursday evening

LIKE counting sheep, counting caps appears likely to send Steven Davis to sleep. The Northern Ireland captain should bring up his ton on the international stage tomorrow night against Switzerland but the only numbers that matter to him are on score-sheets.

Still, he hesitated a little when asked if he’d swap all those appearances and the MBE he received last week for the guarantee of playing at next year’s World Cup. But only a little.

“The MBE and 100th caps are special achievements on a personal level but getting to a World Cup would be huge.

“I don’t like to rank achievements or say this is more important. But it goes without saying that to play in a World Cup Finals would be special as many great players have been unable to do that.”

Unlike many who talk about receiving praise being ‘humbling’, you know the modest 32-year-old is genuine when he uses that word to describe his experience at Buckingham Palace last week:

“It was great meeting Prince William and a great experience. It’s something you are not used to but it was great to be in the room with other great people receiving their awards.

“They have done very well in their own fields whether it is police, military, ambulance or professors and it was nice to experience that with my family…

“It is very humbling to be there and recognise what people have achieved in their lives. I got an award for doing something that I have loved and it’s not something I ever expected but I’m very proud of. I’ll probably keep in touch with a few of the award winners.

“There was a guy from Glasgow who had lost his son and then went on a campaign to raise money for a teenage cancer fund, it was nice to share that experience.”

Even the royal talked about football, though, appreciating the importance of the stage Davis steps onto this week:

“Prince William was very knowledgeable on the game. He talked about the play-offs, knew we were playing the Swiss, and said it would be very difficult but he wished us all the best. It was a memorable day.”

Southampton midfielder Davis has had a few of those, and nights, in recent seasons, notably on the international scene.

Yet although he’s “excited and really looking forward” to this two-legged tie against the Swiss, he insists that the numbers 100, or 101 in Basel on Sunday night, don’t matter to him at all:

“In all honesty, I’m not really counting caps. I don’t want anything to distract from the preparations for the game and my preparation mentally for the game as well. It will be at the very back of my mind.

“Obviously it’s a huge landmark and I’m very honoured to get to that number, but my focus is solely on the game.

“Hopefully after the two games I can reflect on it and say ‘that was a special time to achieve that goal’. We can only do that by winning and progressing.”

A query about where he keeps so many caps prompted a chuckle: “We don’t get a hundred so we’re all right. We only get one for every calendar year and the different fixtures are put on that particular cap, so there’s still plenty of room.”

Others think more about his century, he reckons, with no danger that he’ll get distracted: “It’s not really my personality anyway so there’s no fear of that in any way. It’s probably more so for the family who are coming to the game. It will be nice for them and they’ll be able to enjoy it a little bit more.

“But as soon as a ball is kicked obviously your focus automatically turns to the game and you’re in the zone at that point. It’s probably more your media responsibilities leading up to the game, you have to talk about it more than you would probably wish.”

His first cap came in a 1-0 loss to a second string Canada side reduced to 10 men in the 22nd minute, and there have been other bumps along the road, making recent good times all the sweeter:

“If you play that number of games you are going to have highs and lows. It’s been nice starting on a low and then coming into this high rather than the other way round.

“I’m really enjoying it. It is difficult when you come away with nothing to show for it but the last few years have been special.”

These play-off games merit that label, he knows: “We’re exactly where we wanted to be before a ball was kicked in the group.

“I think we have it all to gain. We just need to go out there and show the intensity levels which we have shown to get us success over the last few years, and try to continue that. It’s going to be a tough task. The Swiss are a very good side.”

Winning is all that counts, though. 100 per cent.

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