What surprised Sunderland’s Dan Ballard after Man Utd’s player’s substitution for Northern Ireland

Sunderland defender Dan Ballard played for Northern Ireland during their European qualifying match against San Marino.
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Sunderland defender Dan Ballard says being handed the Northern Ireland captain’s armband was one of the best feelings of his career.

The 24-year-old earned his 20th international cap during Saturday’s 3-0 win over San Marino in a European qualifying match, while Sunderland teammate Trai Hume also played the full 90 minutes.

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Ballard was given the captain’s armband when Manchester United defender Jonny Evans was substituted in the 63rd minute at Windsor Park, highlighting how highly he’s rated by manager Michael O’Neill .

“I was pretty surprised, to be honest,” said Ballard. “I didn’t think I’d get it; I never thought I’d be in that position. It was quite overwhelming, and I was quite emotional at the time. I had no idea it was going to come to me when Jonny was going off. I just assumed it would be going to someone else, I certainly didn’t think it would be me, but to wear it was an emotional and amazing moment.

“I just never believed I’d ever have that opportunity, and to do it at this age for this nation, it was probably one of the best feelings I’ve ever had. To wear that armband at home in front of those fans as well, it was a moment I will remember forever.”

Ballard, who was born in Stevenage, qualifies to play for Northern Ireland because his mother was born in the country and has looked up to former national team captains such as Steven Davis and Jonny Evans.

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“My mum, my auntie and my uncle who live over here were all there, and for them to see that, plus to win and have a clean sheet at home, was amazing for all of us,” he added. “I think we’ve had some amazing captains, Davo and Jonny recently, and to wear the armband after them is amazing and hard to put into words. They are such amazing players, and even if this was just a one-off in this game, I’ll cherish it forever. It’s a feeling I loved and would like again. I’ll do anything I can to help this team.”

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