Belfast Telegraph

From Coagh to the Champs-Elysees for daring Stuart Dallas as winger targets European Championships Northern Ireland squad place

By Steven Beacom

Stuart Dallas was playing intermediate football for Coagh United five years ago. The Cookstown man has come a long way since then and is intent on travelling even further. All the way to France with Northern Ireland next year for starters.

And the way the daring winger has performed since bursting on to the Euro 2016 qualifying scene in March, he promises to be a key figure for manager Michael O'Neill when the finals begin.

Eight months ago he came off the bench to win his third cap in the 2-1 home victory over Finland. The 24-year-old started the next five Group F matches, which tells its own story.

It's been quite the journey for the modest 24-year-old... from Coagh to Irish League side Crusaders to Brentford and now Leeds United, establishing himself with Northern Ireland in the process. With the luck of the Euro 2016 finals draw, a glamour trip to Paris and the Champs-Elysees beckons.

"Sometimes I do sit back and go wow," said Dallas ahead of Friday's friendly at Windsor against Latvia.

"A few years ago I was playing for Coagh United but with a lot of hard work and dedication I have got to where I am today.

"I also have a lot of people to thank for helping me along the way. There are too many to mention but all have played a part in my career. I don't want it to stop. I want to keep playing for my club and country and perform well."

Dallas made his international debut under Nigel Worthington in 2011 as a Crusaders player in the often forgotten Nations Cup against Wales in Dublin.

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Four years passed by before he played for his country again in a friendly in Scotland before taking his chance to shine at Windsor in the victory over Finland.

"When I came into the squad earlier in the campaign the boys were already on a really good run," he recalled.

"It was a good group to come into because the confidence was high and that made things easier for me.

"The boys were very welcoming and Michael showed faith in me to give me a chance and thankfully I have been involved ever since.

"I had watched our early group games on television, cheering on the boys, hoping they would get results. I was supposed to be in the squad in those games but pulled my quad which kept me out for quite a while."

The highlight of the campaign came last month when Northern Ireland defeated Greece 3-1 in Belfast to qualify for the Euro 2016 finals.

"First and foremost to play in any Northern Ireland game is incredible but the win over Greece was extra special because we qualified that night," said Dallas.

"It was a proud moment to be involved in a game like that at a packed Windsor Park when the atmosphere was unbelievable.

"I think once the game started there was only going to be one winner. We really wanted it and with the crowd backing us, Greece weren't going to stop us.

"A day later we went to Finland and although we wanted to win got a 1-1 draw that ensured we topped our group which was a fantastic achievement.

"I think some people thought we were just going there for a party. We enjoyed the night we qualified but once in Helsinki the manager got us focused and we knew we had a job to do."

Quickly becoming a favourite for Northern Ireland, the fans at Leeds have also taken to Dallas following his summer move.

He said: "I am happy that I made the move to Leeds. It was Uwe Rosler, my old manager at Brentford, who brought me to Leeds and while I was sad to see him go, we have a new manager in Steve Evans and I'm trying my best for him and the club to help us move up the table. We had an important couple of wins before the international break and hopefully that form will continue."

Belfast Telegraph