‘Leader’ Stuart Dallas in contention to captain Northern Ireland

Stuart Dallas is in contention to captain Northern Ireland in their upcoming friendlies against Malta and Ukraine after manager Ian Baraclough hailed the Leeds midfielder’s leadership qualities.

In a squad missing the likes of regular skipper Steven Davis and vice-captain Jonny Evans, Baraclough talked up the need for his experienced players to help a youthful selection at their Austrian training camp this week.

After a superb season for Leeds, Dallas could step in to lead the team out to face Malta on Sunday evening in Klagenfurt.

“He’s been a leader for Leeds,” Baraclough said. “Coming from the Championship there were a lot of questions about what they could do in the Premier League. They’ve answered all those questions and Stuart has been a massive part of that.

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“He’s a leader. The way he has risen in his career, coming from the Irish League, he’s an inspiration for all young players coming from Northern Ireland and playing in the Irish League, knowing they can go and reach those heights.”

Baraclough on Wednesday named a 25-man squad missing several regular faces, having told his players in March there was no obligation to play this summer after a gruelling period.

While Davis takes a breather, Evans is out through injury, and others are looking to resolve uncertain club futures.

Dallas scored eight goals – including a match-winning brace at Manchester City – in 39 appearances for Leeds this season, but Baraclough revealed the 30-year-old had no hesitation in extending an already testing season.

“It just tells you everything about him,” Baraclough said. “He’s a man who loves playing for his country, just representing his country.

“He doesn’t want to turn down the chance of winning more caps.

“I could have fielded that phone call from him asking to sit this one out, and I would totally have understood.

“For him to extend his season for another 10 days shows his commitment…

“Again, it just shows that these guys enjoy being together as a group. Those I spoke to who are missing out are gutted because they know they are amongst friends when they meet up.”

While some big names are missing from the squad, Baraclough is not yet assured of having all the players he has selected available for the matches.

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Dan Ballard will miss at least the Malta game as he prepares for the League One play-off final with Blackpool. A small number of others who have not yet travelled may now find it difficult to reach Austria due to a change in travel restrictions amid the pandemic.

Among those affected is Shayne Lavery, the Linfield striker who has just made history as the first player to be named Ulster Footballer of the Year and Young Player of the Year in the same season.

The 22-year-old scored 30 goals to help Linfield to a 55th Irish League title, and the former Everton trainee is now being tipped for a move back across the Irish Sea.

“I think he’s ready to go back,” Baraclough said. “I think he probably needed the disappointment of coming back from Everton but having senior football under David (Healy) at Linfield and having success, he has gone and swept the board with the awards, and I think he’s got a talent.

“We’re still nurturing him, David has nurtured him for the last couple of seasons. I think he will go and deal with English or Scottish football, wherever he goes, and be a success.”