Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis: ‘The hunger for success is still there, we want more’

Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis

Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis

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Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis insists the hunger to succeed still burns brightly in Michael O’Neill’s squad.

Davis and his team-mates created history during the summer when they starred at Euro 2016 in France.

It was the first time Northern Ireland had ever played in a European Championship, and their first major finals appearance since the 1986 World Cup.

O’Neill’s squad were hailed as heroes following their Euro crusade, but now they must turn their focus to a new qualifying campaign.

On September 4 they will embark on the first step towards qualification for the 2018 World Cup when they face the Czech Republic in Prague.

Also in Group C are Germany, Norway, Azerbaijan and San Marino.

“What we achieved during the Euro qualifiers, and at the finals, was immense. But we don’t want to dwell on those achievements,” Southampton midfielder Davis said.

“The players are hungry for more, and we want to keep this feel-good factor going. The Euros were incredible, and it was great to be part of that experience. But we want more.

“I think the experience we gained from playing in a competitive tournament will stand us in good stead.

“We learnt so much in the four games we played, and it gave us a taste of playing at a major tournament.

“Now we have another chance to qualify for a major tournament, and we aim to give it our best shot again.

“We should take a great deal of confidence from finishing top of the European qualifying group, and then reaching the knockout stages in France.

“The past two years have been great for the squad, and we have progressed so much. It is up to us to continue that progress.”

Northern Ireland defeated Ukraine 2-0 to help them progress to the knockout stages at Euro 2016.

In the last 16 they suffered a narrow 1-0 defeat to eventual semi-finalists Wales.

“We had a good tournament, but we were disappointed to go out against Wales,” he added.

“That was a game we could have won. We could have reached the quarter-finals, but the game just got away from us.

“To lose with an own goal was cruel, but I suppose it says a lot when we are gutted to be losing in the knockout stages of a major tournament. It shows you how far we have come.”

Looking ahead to the World Cup qualifiers, Davis added: “It is important we start off with a positive result. In the Euro qualifiers we went to Hungary and came from behind to win 2-1. That was the catalyst.”

“We have to travel to the Czech Republic to start our World Cup campaign, so we will be looking for a similar result.”