Football/Soccer

Davis lingers but will he stay longer with Northern Ireland?

Will he be back?: Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis applauds the supporters after the 0-0 draw with Italy. Pic Colm Lenaghan/ Pacemaker

DOES 'moving forward' mean turning your back? Is it a case of 'so long' or 'so much longer' for Steven Davis?

The Northern Ireland captain will be well into his 40th year when Euro 2024 comes around but he still doesn't know if his 132nd cap will turn out to be his last.

The Ballymena man had said pre-match that he'd savour the atmosphere against the European champions and it was certainly a memorable occasion.

He seemed to bid a lingering farewell to the Green and White Army after Monday night's highly impressive 0-0 draw against Italy, but he insisted that doesn't mean he was saying 'goodbye'; perhaps it was more 'arrivederci'.

"I honestly don't know what's going to happen moving forward. Whenever that day comes it's going to be very difficult for me to accept, whether it's my decision or not.

"It's always been an honour to pull on a Northern Ireland shirt and the older I get, I try to soak everything up a bit more and that's what I did on Monday.

"I've always had great support from the fans, from the moment I first came in, and I really appreciate it.

"Over these two games [Lithuania last Friday too] they were singing my song, which is fantastic, and having them back in for these two games was brilliant for all of us."

The Rangers midfielder will take his time, with no Northern Ireland games for more than three months, and even then only friendlies: "We won't be back together until March and I really don't think there's any point in making any decisions now.

"Looking forward, the Nations League [next June] is going to be important for us in terms of trying to get a Euros play-off and then we have the Euros qualification campaign after that.

"In terms of everything, I'll speak to the manager [Ian Baraclough], and he will have to give people opportunities who are in and around it at the time; these are all things I need to consider.

Northern Ireland might have secured the big scalp they've craved since beating Spain 3-2 in 2006 but Davis watched from a distance as Conor Washington got past Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma in the 90th minute, evaded a lunging defender - but then saw his shot kicked off the line by visiting skipper Leonardo Bonucci.

"I certainly wasn't getting there, that's for sure," said Davis with a smile, "but Ali [McCann] was busting a gut to try to get there but I don't think he saw him.

"Once you're in that position you just try to finish it but he just couldn't find that finishing touch. We did have two or three really good chances and on another night it would have been a famous win."

'Davo' laughed at the suggestion that he might have been almost glad that shot didn't go in as that might have made his mind up to retire from the international scene:

"We all would have loved to have been able to get a famous win, but I was never going to make a decision based on just one game.

"There are a number of young players who have come in and got valuable experience for us and they will get more games going forward and show their quality.

"Getting a result like this will give a lot of the boys belief that they can get results and compete at that level."

Having reached Euro 2016 and only lost out in play-offs for World Cup 2018 and Euro 2020, Davis remains optimistic that NI can make it to another major tournament:

"I certainly hope so. I think we've shown that level against Italy and we shouldn't have any fear going up against anybody.

"But the key is consistency. We also need to have a fully fit squad available at all times to give ourselves an opportunity and if we have that, we always give ourselves a chance.

So, you're saying there's a chance…?

His final words (at least on Monday night)?: "I love the fans here, and I'm very thankful."

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Football/Soccer