Leeds United v Ipswich: Summer of love has Stuart Dallas pining for a repeat

The year 2016 has been such a vintage year for Stuart Dallas that the Northern Ireland international admits to wishing he could replay it over and over again.

Stuart Dallas in action for Leeds United. (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)

Being part of the Northern Ireland side that performed so valliantly at the European Championship was a big highlight. So, too, was his summer wedding to Juneve and subsequent honeymoon in the United States, the latter having to be delayed until after the Euros in France.

Now, the 25-year-old wants to end the year on a high by helping Leeds United build on an encouraging dozen or so days and force their way into the upper echelons of the Championship.

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“It has been a big year,” said Dallas when speaking to The Yorkshire Post at United’s Thorp Arch training ground. “An incredible year for myself. Getting married and playing in the Euros made for a great summer. It is one I would love to do over and over again, if I am honest.

Stuart Dallas speak to his dad after Northern Ireland's defeat to Wales. in Euro 2016.

“But, hopefully, from a club perspective we can now push on. The spirit has been good all season but the last week has given everyone a lift. Winning breeds confidence.”

Back-to-back victories over Blackburn Rovers and Cardiff City plus a safe passage to the fourth round of the EFL Cup has brought the smiles back to Elland Road after a difficult start to the season.

With three more league outings before the October international break arrives to put a brake on the season, the challenge now is to maintain this new-found sense of momentum.

“We want to go into the next international break on a high,” admitted Dallas ahead of a week that will bring home games against Ipswich Town and Barnsley either side of Tuesday’s trip to Bristol City.

Stuart Dallas speak to his dad after Northern Ireland's defeat to Wales. in Euro 2016.

“It is a long time between games in the Championship when an international break comes along and we don’t want to be dwelling on things. We want to be on a high and full of confidence.

“We have three games before then but Ipswich is the focus. We believe we can win the game and then after that we take it from there.”

If Leeds can maintain their upward trajectory with three more positives results before Dallas heads off to join up with the Northern Ireland squad for a World Cup double-header against San Marino and Germany, it will represent another enjoyable aspect of a year that the winger is unlikely to ever forget.

Having helped Northern Ireland qualify for the Euros, he played a key role in Michael O’Neill’s side exceeding expectations by reaching the knockout stage with a man-of-the-match performance in the 2-0 win over Ukraine.

“The Euros were an unbelievable experience and something that will live with me for a very long time,” said Dallas when asked about his summer in France.

“Getting to play against some of the best players in the world was an incredible experience. That is why you play the game.

“I listened to others talk about what playing in a Euros would be like but you can’t know truly what is involved until you have done it yourself.

“The atmosphere of the tournament, especially the one created by our fans, was like nothing I have known. The set-up of the tournament was interesting, too. Obviously, the security was tighter than we have known in our careers after what had gone on.

“It was an eye-opener of an experience and something that will live with me for ever. People had written us off and didn’t expect us to do anything. But, as a group, we knew how good we were and what we could achieve out there.

“Getting through the group shocked a lot of people but had that belief about us. We are a hard team to beat. People overlook that we finished top of our group and dismissed us a bit.

“It is a good group and a belief about us that we won’t get beat. That is something I hope to bring here. If we can go into games believing we won’t get beat then that fuels confidence. We have tasted that success of getting there but now we have to push on.

“The World Cup qualifying campaign is tough because there is only one team that goes through. Germany and the Czech Republic are in our group but we have belief.”

Northern Ireland’s travelling army of fans made a huge impression in France and it was Dallas who provided the Green and White Army with an insight into what life within the squad was like through a series of ‘Video Diaries’.

Off-beat interviews with team-mates were a big feature along with ‘behind the scenes’ footage, while Dallas also held various challenges that included a ‘blink-off’ with Josh Magennis and an attempt to sign the summer’s soundtrack of ‘Will Grigg’s on fire’.

“I cringe a little bit at those video diaries,” said the United winger. “But it was all good fun and I enjoyed making them with the boys a lot.

“The (Northern Ireland FA) media guys came up with the idea, it wasn’t the sort of thing I would have come up with myself.

“It was good for fans, as it gave them an insight into what life was like in the camp. They were also a good way of relieving the boredom. We were away for something like seven weeks altogether and that is a long time in hotels. We had to do something to give us a bit of a craic.

“I have had a bit of mickey-taking about them since the Euros, though I am not sure the boys here have seen them yet.

“Though they did sing the ‘Will Grigg’s on fire’ song a few weeks ago. A few of the boys seemed to enjoy that.”