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Stuart Dallas insists he could not turn down chance to play for Northern Ireland

Stuart Dallas insists he could not turn down chance to play for Northern Ireland
The Leeds star will captain the international side against Malta on Sunday.

Stuart Dallas has insisted he could not turn down the opportunity to play for Northern Ireland this summer because he knows nothing is guaranteed in football.

Dallas will captain the side when they face Malta on Sunday as one of the senior players in a 22-strong squad that blends youth and experience.

While Ian Baraclough had told his players they could sit out this end-of-season tour after a punishing schedule over the past 18 months, Dallas had no hesitation in extending a season in which he was virtually an ever-present for Leeds in their first campaign back in the Premier League.

“We are in a privileged position,” the 30-year-old said. “It would have been easy to pull out, of course it would have been, but I’ve had a good season and I wanted to be here.

“I wanted to set an example to the younger lads coming through that you can’t just pick and choose when you play for your country.

“It doesn’t happen to every kid and there are loads of people who would dream to be in the position we are in.

“I want to represent my country for as long as I can, but I know football can change in the blink of an eye. It’s important we enjoy the moment and enjoy these two games.”

After a tough start to World Cup qualifying on the back of missing out on a place at Euro 2020, Northern Ireland’s primary mission on Sunday is to record a win, one that if it comes would be Baraclough’s first inside 90 minutes in his 12th game in charge.

“It’s important we start to get results,” Dallas added. “We haven’t come here just to make up the numbers or to come on a summer tour (and enjoy ourselves), we’ve come to win two games. We must get back to winning games.”

There will be opportunities for the fresher faces in Baraclough’s side to establish themselves in the group both in Sunday’s match and Thursday’s trip to Ukraine, by which time Baraclough hopes Dan Ballard and Kyle Lafferty will have arrived to add to his options.

These end-of-season trips have a long history of allowing new players to force their way into the picture. Baraclough’s squad includes two teenaged defenders in Conor Bradley and Sam McClelland, while Alfie McCalmont, Ethan Galbraith and Dion Charles will be looking to cement their places.

The manager has not guaranteed players time on the pitch, with the focus for Bradley and McClelland to soak up their surroundings.

“It’s a factfinding mission for us,” Baraclough said. “You hope one or two will surprise you and make the step up very easily.

“They’ve seen a pathway for them, and they can see that if they work hard they can get to the stage where they make their senior international debut.

“We hope they all come through, but we’ve got to give them time. I’m not averse to throwing someone in and seeing if they sink or swim, but you’ve also got to do right with them and not set them back.”