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Thursday 21 Sep 2023
Craig Cathcart calls time on playing career

Northern Ireland defender Craig Cathcart has decided to retire from professional football.

Cathcart, who won 73 senior caps for his country, explained it was “a difficult decision” to call it a day.

In an open letter to Northern Ireland fans he said it was not an easy choice to make, however he also revealed his enthusiasm and motivation to play the game has waned.

Craig was always a key player for me. He was a positive presence around any camp. We wish him well in his future endeavours

Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill said: “Craig was always a key player for me. He was a positive presence around any camp, due to his skillset both on and off the pitch.

“We wish him well in his future endeavours.”

Cathcart made his debut for Northern Ireland in September 2010 in a Euro 2012 qualifier away to Slovenia – and he provided the assist for the only goal of the game, which was scored by Corry Evans.

The 34-year-old wore the Northern Ireland captain’s armband twice – back in March for the Euro 2024 qualifiers against San Marino (away) and Finland (home).

He was injured in the 4-2 defeat by Slovenia in Ljubljana at the start of this month and that ruled him out of the subsequent Group H game against Kazakhstan in Astana.

His football education began at Manchester United, but in four years at Old Trafford he failed to make the breakthrough into the first team despite gaining experience on loan at Royal Antwerp, Plymouth Argyle and Watford.

He eventually left Manchester for Blackpool, who were then in the Premier League, for the bargain price of just £300,000 in September 2010.

Cathcart suffered relegation from the Premier League in his first season at Bloomfield Road and in four years he clocked up 117 games for the Tangerines, scoring two goals before departing for Watford in the summer of 2014.

He scored the first of his two international goals in a 1-1 draw in Finland (Euro 2016 qualifier) in October 2015. His second came the following March in Cardiff - in a friendly with Wales ahead of Euro 2016 in France. That game ended 1-1.

Cathcart subsequently played in all four of Northern Ireland's matches at the European Championship finals in the summer of 2016.

After nine seasons at Watford, where he played 262 games and scored eight goals under no fewer than 18 managers, he was released by the club at the end of the 2022-23 season.

Earlier this month he signed a one-year deal with Belgian top flight club KV Kortrijk, however his contract has now been terminated by mutual consent.