The Cookstown Pele, Stuart Dallas, should be playing Premier League football next season after winning promotion with Leeds United.
This is obviously brilliant for him on a personal level, but from an international point of view, it is fantastic.
One thing that Northern Ireland has been lacking in recent years is quality Premier League players that bring experience to the squad. Currently, Jonny Evans, Craig Cathcart, and Jamal Lewis are the only players that are getting consistent Premier League minutes, and even then, Cathcart and Lewis have been in and out of the squad frequently.
If you read my article on the Northern Ireland goalkeeping situation, you will know that Michael McGovern and Bailey Peacock-Farrell have also got contracts to Premier League clubs, but they aren’t getting much game time – for Peacock-Farrell, none at all.
To think that there could be six Northern Irish Premier League players is great, but Norwich are going down which means Lewis and McGovern will be playing Championship football as it stands, and Cathcart and Watford have been relegated to the Championship as well.
What Dallas brings to any squad is versatility. We have seen how vital James Milner is to Liverpool, and while he isn’t their best player, he brings experience and assurance whether he is playing at full-back or in midfield.
This is vital in the international set-up as squads are limited to 23 players, and although that might seem a lot, managers tend to go heavy on the attacking side of things in order to have enough players to come off the bench to try and score a late winner or equaliser if needed.
Dallas isn’t the only Northern Irish player at Leeds, Alfie McCalmont is also playing his trade at Elland Road and made his international debut for Northern Ireland in September 2019 against Luxembourg. The 20 year old midfielder has yet to make a league appearance for Leeds but has made two appearances in the EFL Cup.
This move up to the Premiership might be a season or two early for McCalmont, but hopefully, he can make a good impression on Bielsa during pre-season or get a loan move to a club in a lower division to help develop his game because he has a bright future ahead.
From my time watching Dallas play at Windsor Park, I have started to notice something that tactically works brilliantly for the Green and White Army. Dallas has been played at full-back in the past few matches, but later in the game, he would move up to the wing. This has caused confusion in the backline of the opponents – often the wrong player is picking him up and that leaves the new full-back free on the wing to cross the ball into the box without much of a sweat.
Dallas is a very good player, but he will need to prove himself at Premier League level. The fact that he was named Leeds Player’s Player of the Season just shows how important he is to the squad. He can play on the wing, at full-back, or even in central midfield so it is up to Marco Bielsa to give him the chance that he has worked so hard to get over his career that started back at Coagh United before making the move to Crusaders in the Irish Premiership.