Stuart Dallas: Living the Dream

Northern Ireland

Last week in the first article of this series we had a look at Gareth McAuley who is very much in the twilight of his career but this week we look at the career of a current Northern Ireland international who, after winning silverware in the Irish League, made the move into professional football at a slightly earlier age and fans of Northern Ireland and Leeds will be hoping that his better years are still to come.

Stuart Dallas was born in Cookstown in County Tyrone and when attending Cookstown High School he got his first taste of silverware when he helped them as they won the Coleraine and District League title in 2004 and 2005 before going on to sign for local side Coagh United as an amateur player. During the 2009/10 season, Coagh struggled, finishing second bottom of the Championship (Championship 1 as it was known at the time) but Dallas was one of the shining lights in their season and his form had begun to attract interest of clubs from the top flight. Eventually, Dallas joined up with Stephen Baxter’s Crusaders side in North Belfast for the 2010/11 season and it was at the North Belfast club were Dallas’ career took off.

Crusaders were a well-established top side in the Premier Division of the Irish League and a year prior to Dallas signing had won the Irish Cup, beating arch-rivals Cliftonville in the final thanks to a solitary Mark Dickson goal. Hope had been high of a league challenge for the 2009/10 season but despite a strong start the Crues fell away at the tail end of the season and ended up 4th and also went out of the Irish Cup but they did add the County Antrim Shield to the trophy cabinet after an extra time win against Linfield.

Crusaders had perhaps gained something as a reputation for being a ‘cup team’ and Baxter hoped that the arrival of Dallas, among other signings, would finally help them go all the way to winning the league title but a slow first half of the season and a defeat against Linfield early in January seen the Crues languishing in 4th place in the table a massive 13 points behind the leaders. This defeat seemed to spark the Crues into life though and they went on a 10 match winning streak that took them to the top of the table but another defeat against Linfield saw them relinquish this lead and eventually finish 2nd, though this was still the clubs highest finish since 1997. Dallas also helped the side to the Irish Cup final but they came out second best against, you guessed it, Linfield. Dallas’ first season at Seaview may have finished without any trophies but he took to top-flight football in Northern Ireland like a duck to water establishing himself as a key player making 38 appearances and scoring 16 goals. He also won six awards at the clubs end of season awards night and won both the Northern Ireland Football Writers Player and Young Player of the Year awards.

At the end of his first season with Crusaders Dallas, along with club teammates Colin Coates and Jordan Owens, was called up to the Northern Ireland squad for the Nations Cup games against the Republic of Ireland and Wales. Having represented Northern Ireland before at junior level it was a proud moment as he took to the pitch as a substitute against Wales in the 62nd minute. Dallas was linked with a move across the water with Blackpool expressing an interest at one stage but opted to remain with Crusaders for the time being.

Having qualified for Europe the previous season Crusaders season started with a glamour tie against then Engish Premiership side Fulham, Dallas started both games as the second biggest club in Fulham ran out 7-1 winners. Throughout the 2011/12 season Crusaders struggled for consistency in the league and would eventually finish a disappointing 5th but Dallas was finally able to get his hands on some silverware as the North Belfast men soared in the cup competitions once again as the defeated Oran Kearney’s Coleraine side 1-0 in the League Cup at the Ballymena Showgrounds, with Dallas playing the full 90 minutes. Dallas and his teammates also made it to the Setanta Cup final, a competition involving the top sides from the North and South of Ireland, were they played League of Ireland side Derry City in the final at The Oval. With the game level at the end of 90 minutes, it went into extra time were the Crues were soon reduced to ten men when Stephen McBride was dismissed for a second bookable offence. Crusaders against all the odds took the lead in extra time only for Derry City to take equalise and force the game to penalties. Dallas converted his own penalty in the shootout as Crusaders scored all their efforts and Sean O’Neill saved from Dermot McCaffrey and Owen Morrison missed the target with his effort meaning that the men from Seaview were the champions of Ireland.

Once again Dallas’ form for Crusaders led to cross-channel interest and this time he found the lure of full-time football too hard to resist and in April 2012 it was announced that he would be joining Uwe Rosler’s Brentford side in League One, after making 85 appearances for Crusaders and scoring 26 goals in the process.

Dallas had to make do with cameo appearances for the most part in his first season with the Bee’s and he started only one game against Carlisle United and was an unused substitute on 18 occasions. In the 2013/14 season, his second with the club, Dallas once again had to make do with a place on the subs bench in the other stages of the season but he did make three starting appearances in cup competitions and even laid on two goals for his teammates on one of those appearances against AFC Wimbledon, before he was sent out on loan to Northampton for a month.

Dallas went straight into the Northampton team for their win over Wimbledon and scored the second goal as the game finished 2-0. Dallas became a regular for the Cobbler’s and eventually, his loan was extended until the beginning of January but due to an injury to Brentford teammate, Kadeem Harris meant he was recalled early. Northampton struggled during Dallas’ loan spell but he did have the benefit of playing regular football as he made 12 appearances scoring 3 goals in his time there.

On his return to Brentford Dallas’s playing time was still fairly limited but he did get a run of games towards the end of the season and also managed to get on the scoresheet as Brentford won automatic promotion to The Championship. In total Dallas played 21 times for Northampton, 10 more appearances than he made in his first season.

Ahead of the 2014/15 season Dallas signed an extension to his contract at Brentford and went on to establish himself as a key player this season as he made a total of 43 appearances in all competitions and scored 8 goals as Brentford made it to the playoffs. Dallas met Fulham once again in his career and helped the Bee’s to a 4-1 win scoring two goals himself, one of which was voted as the clubs goal of the season. His form for Brentford seen him called up to the Northern Ireland squad in March 2015 and he won his first Northern Ireland cap in four years against Scotland and has since went on to be a virtual ever-present for Northern Ireland. At the end of the 2014/15 season after 75 appearances and 9 goals Dallas left Brentford moving to Leeds United for a fee believed to be around the £1 million mark.

Dallas instantly established himself as a key player for Leeds as he made 49 appearances, more than any other senior player at the club, and scored 5 goals during his first season with the Yorkshire club and scored 5 goals. Dallas also won the clubs Players Player of the Year Trophy, as Leeds finished 13th. During that season Dallas had helped Northern Ireland qualify for the European Championships and came off the bench in the defeat against Poland in the first game of the tournament before starting and playing the full 90 minutes in the remaining three games in the tournament, playing a part in the second goal in the 2-0 win over Ukraine. To date, Dallas has made 22 full international appearances and scored 2 goals, one of which was a late winner against Azerbaijan in the current World Cup qualifying campaign.

Dallas continued to be a key player for Leeds and to date has made 92 appearances and scored 9 goals and will be hoping to make up for last season’s collapse that seen Leeds fall out of playoff and promotion contention late in the season and will also be hoping to help Northern Ireland make it to Russia for the World Cup next year.