Motherwell skipper Stephen Craigan has announced his retirement from International football after picking up 54 caps for Northern Ireland.
The 34-year old has been a mainstay for Nigel Worthington’s side over the past five years and was captain for his 50th cap last year.
But the Newtonards-born defender, who played a total of 54 games for club and country last season, has opted to try and extend his club career but reducing his schedule.
[pullquote]I’ve punched above my weight but I’ve enjoyed that challenge. People have been asking me when I’ve been going to retire since I turned 30.[/pullquote]
“To be honest I’m giving up international football with a heavy heart,” Craigan told BBC Scotland.
“It’s harder to recover between games and I thought for the benefit of Motherwell and my club career I had to give myself more of a chance. This definitely isn’t about my career winding down – in fact it is the opposite.
“The reason for coming away is to try and extend my playing career as much as I can. i’ve been vigilant with regards to looking after myself. I’ve spent loads of money over the years on diets and supplements and sprint coaches and sport psychologists.
“I’ve gone to all extremes to try and extend my career and this is just another way of trying to do it. It hasn’t cost me financially this time, but it has cost me in terms of playing for my country.”
‘Well legend Craigan, who was rewarded with a testimonial last season, admits that playing for his country was amongst his proudest moments.
Northern Ireland have achieved some incredible success over the past few years including beating England and turning up positives results against Italy and World and European Champions Spain.
“Until you stand there and hear your national anthem and see your family you can’t explain what it means,” he said.
“I’ve achieved far more than I ever thought I would. When you do get a little bit down or things get on top of you it’s nice to go and look at some jerseys that you’ve collected over the years. I’m lucky enough to have them from Andreas Pirlo, Dmitar Berbatov, Michael Owen, Cristiano Ronaldo, Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
“For me to be on the same pitch as these guys, I’ve punched above my weight but I’ve enjoyed that challenge. People have been asking me when I’ve been going to retire since I turned 30.
“I think we have a habit of ruling people out in football. David Weir has broken that barrier by playing on past the age of 40. We need more players who play beyond their mid thirties to lift that stigma that comes once you reach a certain age.
“The hardest thing I’ve had to do was to tell my mum and dad that I was giving up. I texted my brothers; I didnt’ have the heart to phone them because I know how much they enjoyed going along and supporting me and the team. That was the hard part for me. But everything was a high for me playing for Northern Ireland. I’ve been lucky, but I’ve worked hard for it.
“But I haven’t just dedicated myself to football for my country, I’ve dedicated myself to football in general, and for the last 7 or 8 years that’s been for Motherwell.
“We’ve got a tough season ahead of us and have an obligation as players to respect the game and respect the clubs that we play for so we’ll be doing our best to have a good season. Anything you get in the SPL you have to work hard for and we’re prepared to do that.”
His National manager Nigel Worthington added: “Northern Ireland is losing a very experienced player and a truly excellent professional.
“Stephen has been a great servant for Northern Ireland and a fantastic ambassador for the country.
“It is sad to see a player like Stephen retire but I wish him all the very best in his career which lies ahead.”