Belfast Telegraph

Liverpool v Leeds United: I'll remember playing at Anfield forever, says Stuart Dallas

By Steven Beacom

Five years ago, Stuart Dallas was working on a building site. Sometimes he would get through the days by dreaming about playing at Anfield.

The dream comes true tonight, with a twist. The Northern Ireland winger will be wearing the white of Leeds United rather than the red of Liverpool, and instead of that vision of scoring for his childhood team at the Kop end, he will be doing all he can to score against them and knock Jurgen Klopp's men out of the quarter-finals of the League Cup.

Growing up in the county Tyrone town of Cookstown and playing for little Coagh United and then Irish League outfit Crusaders, Dallas was devoted to Liverpool.

He travelled to Merseyside to roar them on and was at Wembley in 2012 the last time they won a trophy - ironically the competition they are playing in this evening.

Today, the 25-year-old's total commitment is to Leeds United.

Having joined them from Brentford last year, he loves playing for the Yorkshire club and their passionate fans and says his biggest ambition now is to help take the Elland Road side from the Championship into the Premier League.

Under the guidance of Garry Monk, Leeds have moved into fifth place in the Championship table.

With a sense of pride, Dallas says: "Leeds are such a big club. You only have to look at the crowds we get every week, home and away. It's an honour to play for a club like Leeds.

"Growing up there was more of a Leeds following in my home town than even Man United or Liverpool.

"The stature of the club is massive. It needs to get back to the top flight and hopefully this season we can have a good go at doing that.

"It would be huge for our supporters and the city itself if we got back to the Premier League.

"The fans have suffered over the last number of years. They haven't been where they wanted to be but they have still turned out in their thousands and are great to play for. They deserve something to cheer and to be in the Premier League and I want to help the club achieve that ambition."

For tonight's quarter-final, Dallas' wife Juneve and daughter Pixie will be in attendance along with his dad Alan, a lifelong Liverpool fan.

"It would be a dream come true for me to play against Liverpool at Anfield," says Dallas. "I've been to Anfield as a fan but have never played there before.

"It's going to be amazing and an experience that will probably live with me forever but first and foremost I am going there, if selected, to put on a performance for Leeds.

"No matter how big a fan I have been of Liverpool, the club that I play for comes first and I will put my childhood allegiances aside and do my job.

"I don't think there would be any better feeling than scoring against Liverpool. It is a massive tie for the club. Fixtures like these are what Leeds should be having every week. It is the quarter-final of the Cup and anything can happen. We will go there with belief and see where it takes us."

There have been some classic Liverpool v Leeds fixtures down the years. The one that sticks in the Ulsterman's memory is when Mark Viduka scored four times for Leeds in a 4-3 victory at Elland Road in 2000.

Dallas won't be the only Leeds player at Anfield who followed Liverpool as a kid. Republic of Ireland midfielder Eunan O'Kane is in the same boat. What they also have in common is that they played in the Irish League with Crusaders and Coleraine respectively.

"It is incredible to think that the two of us could be playing at Anfield. It will be a good advertisement for the Irish League which I don't think gets the credit it deserves. Eunan, myself and other lads have proved that it can be a stepping stone to get across the water," says Dallas.

"Eunan has played against Liverpool a few times and him having that experience can be a big benefit to us. He is a good lad and a good player and has been a revelation for us since he arrived."

Over the past two years Dallas, who recently returned to action following a six-week lay-off with a calf injury, has become a key figure for his country and was sensational during the Euro 2016 finals.

He admits he still has to pinch himself, finding it hard to believe how far he has come.

"It's been an incredible journey and an incredible year," he says.

"What Northern Ireland have achieved has been unbelievable. The Euros has given us a taste for more success. Playing at the finals in France was fantastic. Now we want to qualify for the 2018 World Cup finals.

"I was pleased with how I did in the Euro 2016 finals. I work hard and try to learn every day and going to a major tournament was a great reward.

"Five years ago I was working on a building site playing for Coagh United. I still pinch myself about how far I've come.

"When I was injured I came home to watch the last Northern Ireland game earlier this month (v Azerbaijan) and the next day I went to see Crusaders against Portadown in the Irish League. I was thinking not long ago I was playing in games like that.

"It's been incredible for me and I want it to continue. Leeds look after me really well and my family are a great support to me."

Another big supporter is World featherweight boxing champion Carl Frampton. He first grew to admire Dallas when the winger was shining for Crusaders. After the Cookstown native moved to Brentford, the pair became friends with Frampton also in London at training camps.

The Northern Ireland boxing hero has been glowing in his praise of Dallas. The respect is mutual.

"To hear someone like Carl speak highly of you is amazing, especially given what he has done," says Dallas. "He is a World champion at two different weights and is an example of what hard work and dedication can do.

"I have seen what he puts himself through. He inspires me and is an outstanding ambassador for Northern Ireland."

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