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Stuart Dallas hits out at 'end of an era' suggestions following Northern Ireland's Euro 2020 play-off defeat


Stuart Dallas wore the Northern Ireland captain's armband for the first time on Sunday evening.

Stuart Dallas wore the Northern Ireland captain's armband for the first time on Sunday evening.

William Cherry/Presseye

Stuart Dallas wore the Northern Ireland captain's armband for the first time on Sunday evening.

It takes something substantial to get a reaction of out the usually mild-mannered Stuart Dallas.

But in the aftermath of Thursday’s heart-wrenching Euro 2020 play-off defeat, some of speculation around the Northern Ireland team’s future has just about managed it.

Having missed out on a spot at next summer’s finals, there had been questions over some of the heroes of Euro 2016. Would the likes of Steven Davis (35), Michael McGovern (36), Niall McGinn (33) and Kyle Lafferty (33) stick around and bid to reach their first World Cup finals in 2022 or would they take a step back for a changing of the guard in the international set up?

Boss Ian Baraclough was first to poo-poo those suggestions, refusing to even consider any retirements.

“You won’t get that feel from me and it’s not a case of writing anyone off. I told the players they can all go again,” he said following the full-time whistle last week.

And Dallas agrees – in fact the mere suggestion that it’s game over for the current crop receives a borderline offended look.

“There was a lot of negativity towards us after the other night, which is natural,” said Dallas after standing in as skipper during Sunday’s defeat in Austria. “People were talking about this group of players and that it’s ‘the end of an era’. That couldn’t be any further from the truth.

“You saw the performance we put in (against Austria). There are a lot of positives we can take and we look forward to playing Romania on Wednesday.”

At 29, Dallas is now one of the senior figures in the squad, as shown by his appointment as captain in Steven Davis’ stead on what was his 51st cap.

While the modest Leeds United star wouldn’t comment too much, other than saying it was an honour beyond his wildest ambitions, more outgoing striker Josh Magennis was only too keen to do the talking for him.

“It means everything to him,” Magennis offered. “He’s a whole-hearted guy. He’s loved by everyone – I love him to bits. It shows his attitude, determination and grit from where he started, moving to England and battling away at Brentford, even going out on loan to Northampton. He has taken leap after leap after leap and never looked back.

“It’s similar to Gareth McAuley in a way. His career has only gone upwards and I wish him every blessing because he deserves it.

“I know he can be a bit stoney-faced at times but inside, he will have the most joy (at the captaincy). I know his family will be very proud of him.”

No matter Dallas’ ever-increasing standing and the old guard’s willingness to go again, the next campaign will see the continued rise to prominence for young stars like centre-half Daniel Ballard and midfielder Ali McCann, who made his debut in Vienna.

“It was brilliant to get a chance,” he said. “When he (Ian Baraclough) named me in the team I was buzzing, especially to get my debut against a team like Austria.

“It’s a bit surreal actually, to be honest. The last camp was my first senior call-up. It’s surreal to be around all these players and I’m honoured to get my first cap. When you get a taste, you want to get as many games as you can. It’s just amazing to be involved.”

It’s the start of a new chapter for the St Johnstone midfielder but don’t try and tell Stuart Dallas that Northern Ireland are turning a brand new page.

Belfast Telegraph