Football/Soccer

Northern Ireland skipper Steven Davis set to match Jennings record against Norway

Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis is set to equal the 119-cap international appearance record of the legendary Pat Jennings against Norway tonight.
Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

Uefa Nations League B1, round two: Northern Ireland v Norway (Windsor Park, 7.45pm tonight)

MOST of the talk was understandably about one player – although Erling Braut Haaland did also get a passing mention.

The Norwegian wunderkind is at one end of the international appearance scale while Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis might yet top the pile, at least in terms of the 'Home nations'.

Tonight should take him level with the great Pat Jennings on 119 caps, and one behind Wayne Rooney, with another Englishman Peter Shilton further ahead on 125.

While this evening's game would elevate him above John O'Shea's tally, two other Irishmen are further ahead – goalkeeper Shay Given (134) and Robbie Keane (146).

Even the ever-modest Davis acknowledged that Shilts's total was in his sights, saying: "I am aware of that record because people have told me before. It would nice to do, but I wouldn't say it's my ultimate goal to go and break that record.

"Once you get to the latter stages of your career, you just want to try and enjoy our football, get as much out of it as possible.

"Ultimately, I want to get to another major tournament and that would be my dream."

Northern Ireland's new boss Ian Baraclough may only be handing a second cap to 'Davo', after Friday night's hard-fought 1-1 draw away to Romania, but he hopes to have him around for some time yet:

"He's not finished yet, so don't be finishing him off by any means. Hopefully he can lead us to the Euros and bigger things in World Cups, but that's way down the line. It's great to have him as our captain and leader…

"I can see Davo stretching it even further and taking it out of sight.

"It's a fantastic achievement. I can't say enough words about the fella. The way he has led the country and led the troops is an example to everyone.

"The way he prepares day in, day out for each session and looking after yourself on the park and off the park: those are the things that people don't see; the sacrifices you have to make with family, who all have to buy into it as well.

"When he does finish he will be able to look back on it with fondness, that's for sure."

The 35-year-old Davis echoed that sentiment, adding about his achievement: "It's hard for me to sum up in words. Listen, there's been a lot of hard work, dedication, sacrifices I've made to get to this point.

"Every time I pull on the jersey, it's a really proud moment for me. I could never say it was an aim to get to this point and I've been fortunate to have a long international career.

"To match an icon for me and my family like Pat [Jennings] is something I will be able to look back on more when I finish playing and be delighted with."

For now, though, Baraclough and Davis must focus on trying to get NI's first Nations League victory against visitors who lost 2-1 at home to Austria in their opener.

Experienced centre half Jonny Evans is available after missing the match in Bucharest for personal reasons.

Baraclough insisted that the Leicester City man wasn't certain to return to the starting line-up: "No, it's not automatic, no, Daniel Ballard set the mark there, he has to try to get him out the team now" – but he did say that with a smile.

"Jonny's back with the group, he's pleased to be back amongst, he wanted to be out in Romania but it wasn't to be. He was training with the lads [on Saturday] and he had a spring in his step. We'll formulate the team in the morning, put the final touches on it, and hopefully Jonny's involved."

The quality of Evans, and Craig Cathcart, will be required to contain Haaland, the 20-year-old Borussia Dortmund scoring sensation, although Baraclough pointed to other threats from Lars Lagerback's team:

"He's in a rich vein of form, scored his first goal for his country the other night as well, and what he's doing with his club he's hoping to transfer to the international stage as well.

"But he's not the only threat and we won't put any special plans just for him. He may not start so we have to look at all the threats they've got and that's what we'll do – we've spoken about them in general, not just any one individual."

Indeed Josh King and Alexander Sorloth are also attacking options for the Norwegians.

The hosts will be without Josh Magennis, suspended after his first half sending-off in Romania, while fringe players Jordan Jones and Matt Kennedy have returned to their clubs due to injury.

Davis will of course want to celebrate his historic night with a win, but another draw appears more likely.

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