EURO 2016 QUALIFIERS: Steven Davis can lead Northern Ireland all the way to France, insists Sammy McIlroy

Sammy McIlroy pictured in action in 1985
Sammy McIlroy pictured in action in 1985

Steven Davis may shatter the archetypal image of a chest-thumping captain – but there is no underestimating his influence on the pitch.

Davis has grown into his role as Northern Ireland skipper ever since he was handed the armband by Michael O’Neill at the start of 2012.

Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis in full flight

Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis in full flight

The 30-year-old embodies the modern football captain. The Southampton midfielder might not be the most vocal figure, but his driving-force standards demand respect – and set the example for his teammates.

Some have labelled Davis too timid to lead his country, a player too emotionally-restrained to galvanise those around him.

But while others refused to be convinced, those who count have subscribed to the quiet man’s leadership.

One former captain who believes Davis is the perfect fit is Sammy McIlroy.

McIlroy led his country into the 1986 World Cup finals in Mexico – the last time Northern Ireland have ever reached a major tournament.

And the 61-year-old former Manchester United midfielder – who also managed Northern Ireland from February 2000 to October 2003 – believes Davis is ready to follow in his footsteps by qualifying for next summer’s Euro finals in France.

“I remember when I was Northern Ireland manager, I picked Steven for the Under 21s,” McIlroy said.

“I watched him for Aston Villa Reserves and I always knew how competitive he was.

“He is a great little footballer, but he is competitive as well.

“I think it was a good choice to make him captain because the players follow his lead. The way he puts himself about the field, and quietly goes about his job. He is the main cog in Northern Ireland’s midfield and is always wanting the ball. That rubs off on the players.

“He doesn’t shout and wave his arms about. You don’t have to shout and show people how animated you are. There are certain ways of doing things.

“The way he handles himself on the park, that rubs off on the players.

“It would be great for Steven if they qualify for the European Championship where he will captain them.”

McIlroy believes the current Northern Ireland squad mirrors the panel of players Billy Bingham took to Mexico back in 1986.

“It was a fantastic squad to be in during that World Cup. There maybe weren’t any superstars, but there was a work ethic and a belief,” McIlroy added.

“Nobody expected us to qualify for the ‘86 World Cup. The team in 1982 was better and there was maybe more expectation, but four years later we defied the odds as underdogs.

“I think Michael O’Neill has something similar going on. He has a squad where everyone is fighting for one another, which you have to do for Northern Ireland.”

McIlroy admits it was an honour to captain his country, following Martin O’Neill who led the side at the 1982 World Cup finals in Spain.

“It was a thrill to be told you are captain of Northern Ireland,” he said.

“I remember when Billy Bingham got the manager’s job, he got myself, Martin O’Neill, Pat Jennings, Sammy Nelson and Pat Rice in a room and just explained how the captaincy would go.

“Martin O’Neill was the captain in 1982, and when he was injured I stepped in. Martin missed the last British Home Championship in 1983/84 which we won, and I was made captain for that.

“Once Martin retired, Billy gave me the job from then on and it was a fantastic honour to captain Northern Ireland in Mexico.

“To play at the World Cup was unbelievable, but to also be captain was something else. We had experienced campaigners in that squad, and even though I wore the armband we all played for one another.”

McIlroy is confident Northern Ireland will see off Greece on Thursday night and confirm their place at next summer’s Euros.

“I am almost certain Greece will come away from Windsor Park empty-handed. They are going through a transitional period,” he said.

“I know they got a remarkable result in Romania, but I can’t see that happening in such a vital game at Windsor Park.

“I can see our lads finishing the job off there.

“If this squad qualifies for the Euros, they deserve to be called legends. We came close to qualifying for the European Championship but never made it.

“It would be great for this bunch of lads to do that and become the first-ever Northern Ireland team to qualify for the Euros.”