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Football: 50 not out for Taylor.

Byline: By ORLA BANNON

MAIK Taylor believes the experience he's gained with Northern Ireland has helped him develop into the top-class goalkeeper he is today.

The Birmingham City stopper, who reaches the magical 50 caps landmark in Vienna tonight, could easily have played for England, but insists he's never regretted his decision to opt for Northern Ireland.

"I thought about it long and hard and I have no regrets whatsoever," he said.

"When I started playing, reaching 50 caps was the furthest thing from my mind, so I'm excited about tomorrow night. It's a tremendous honour which makes me very proud."

While most professionals use their club careers to prepare them for the international stage, the opposite is true for German-born Taylor.

"I came to the game late. I was 27 years of age and playing in the second division with Fulham when I first played for Northern Ireland," he explained.

"I firmly believe the experience I've gained at international level has helped me establish myself in the premiership.

"Every player has dreams of playing at the highest level and I'm no different."

The 33-year-old, the second highest capped player in the squad behind Keith Gillespie, believes he can one day qualify for a major championships.

He claimed: "if we can finish third in this group it would be the best achievement I've had in international football.

"We all would have taken third place when the group started, and we're very close now. Hopefully, we can build on this."

Sanchez paid tribute to Taylor's commitment, and took a swipe at the less dedicated who've quit the squad.

"Some people say they're proud of playing for Northern Ireland - but then don't turn up for international duty," he said.

"Maik always turns up, and the proof is in the pudding. I only got to play for Northern Ireland three times so, to have won as many caps as he has, is a great achievement.

"We have always been blessed with good keepers from Harry Gregg to Pat Jennings - and now to Maik, who is one of the best."

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LOYALTY BONUS: Taylor
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Oct 12, 2005
Words:351
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