Belfast Telegraph

Windsor roar is special, as a fan and a player: Stuart Dallas

By Keith Bailie

In his younger days, Stuart Dallas stood among the Green and White Army cheering on Northern Ireland.

As he swapped the stands for the pitch as he made his first competitive international start in Saturday night's Euro 2016 qualifier against Romania, the raucous atmosphere was still the same for the Brentford winger.

Although the top-two battle in Group F didn't provide the 10,400 sell-out crowd with any goals to cheer, Dallas praised the Northern Ireland fans for once again creating a fantastic atmosphere at Windsor Park - even without the famous Kop Stand.

The clash with Romania was the first international at Windsor Park since the Kop was demolished after cracks were found in the structure, but even with half the stadium still undergoing reconstruction work, it lacked none of its old atmosphere.

And Dallas relished it as he got his first real taste of the big time in international football.

"It's hard to replace the Kop when it comes to atmosphere, but the Northern Ireland fans did a good job of it," said Dallas.

"The noise that was coming from the new stand was fantastic. You always get that from the Northern Ireland fans, whether it's at Windsor Park or away from home they always make a great noise.

"The atmosphere was fantastic and I'm sure it will be even better when the stadium is complete."

Although Northern Ireland weren't able to get the win that would have taken them above Romania at the top of the group, it was still a good night for Dallas.

Just four years after stepping out of intermediate football with Coagh United, and three years on from leaving Crusaders for Brentford, the prospect of playing for Northern Ireland in a major tournament is now looming large on the horizon.

"The most important thing for me is that I got my first competitive start and that we got a good point from the game," said Dallas.

"It's a good result, a good clean sheet and a good point for us. All we can do now is prepare to go again in September."

Dallas didn't let himself down after being pitched in by manager Michael O'Neill.

He had a number of attempts on goal and kept the Romania defence occupied for the full 90 minutes. The former Crusaders man believes a draw was an excellent result.

"The way I looked at the game was no matter what happened, we were in a good place," he said. "Getting a point just strengthens our position in the group. We're only going to take one game at a time, so we're not looking any further ahead than the Faroes.

"It's been a long year for everyone who is involved in the international set-up, so everyone is looking forward to a break, but once we get back to our clubs and get past pre-season, thoughts will turn to the Faroe Islands game in September."

Dallas is enjoying every second of his time with Northern Ireland.

"There's a lot to look forward to. It's a great time to be a Northern Ireland player," said Dallas.

"The atmosphere in the camp is great and I think you can see that on the pitch because everyone is fighting for each other and fighting for every ball.

"We fought right to the last second. It's great to be part of this group and everybody is really enjoying it. Long may it continue."

Belfast Telegraph