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Advice from U19 EURO ambassador Stuart Dallas: 'Play with a smile'

Former Northern Ireland international Stuart Dallas urges the players at the 2024 UEFA European Under-19 Championship to make the most of the wonderful opportunity.

Stuart Dallas celebrates Northern Ireland's qualification for EURO 2016
Stuart Dallas celebrates Northern Ireland's qualification for EURO 2016 Getty Images

Wearing your country's colours and walking out on the football pitch at an international tournament is one of the major goals for any aspiring footballer, so ambassador Stuart Dallas is perfectly placed to tell the youngsters appearing at this year's UEFA European Under-19 Championship to seize the moment. Dallas represented Northern Ireland's senior national team 62 times, including at EURO 2016, and also played in the Premier League for Leeds United during a 15-year career. Here, the former midfielder has some invaluable advice for the stars of the future to bear in mind during these finals in his home country.

How important are tournaments like this in a young player's development?

They are really important. For many players, this is their first opportunity to play in such a big event at the national level and they have the opportunity to play with some of the best talent in their age group, so it's going to be a great experience for them to prepare for their footballing journey ahead.

"Pulling on the famous green and white for the first time was a dream come true."

Stuart Dallas

What do they learn from a tournament like this?

To be able to play in such a big international tournament at such a young age is an amazing opportunity to learn. It's not every day that you get the chance to wear your national team's jersey, let alone at a European Championship, even at youth level. It is something they will cherish at the time and look back on in years to come.

What was it like to pull on the Northern Ireland shirt for the first time?

As a young boy growing up in Cookstown, Northern Ireland, all I ever wanted was to play for my country, so pulling on the famous green and white for the first time was a dream come true. I think every young footballer thinks about it [as soon as] they start playing the game and, luckily, I had the chance to do it many times, with lots of fond memories to look back on.

Dallas in action against Austria's David Alaba
Dallas in action against Austria's David AlabaGetty Images

Are there any moments from your own youth career that have really stuck with you?

It is hard to name one, because I had a lot of moments that shaped me in becoming the footballer I was. The early years at Coagh United and then in the Irish League with Crusaders obviously stand out. But every win, draw or loss ultimately helped me on my way and developed me when I was an aspiring professional player. It was all part of the journey.

What was playing at EURO 2016 like?

It was a standout moment in my career. Looking back at the qualifying campaign, our foundations were built on having a good defence. We had a spread of youth and experience and Premier League players who led the charge. The victory against Ukraine and the reaction from our fans is still talked about now!

What does it mean to have your country host this tournament?

It means a huge amount. We have always had a great relationship with UEFA and to be nominated as hosts just confirms that. This tournament is important to show the rest of Europe just how well the youth pathway is developing in Northern Ireland, and of course to show off our beautiful countryside and our welcoming people.

"The opportunity to play in a tournament like this is very special for the players, especially at home..."

Stuart Dallas

How excited are you to see the next generation? Any Northern Ireland players to watch out for?

I am really excited. The opportunity to play in a tournament like this is very special for the players, especially at home, and I am looking forward to seeing all of them. Players like our goalkeeper Pierce Charles and defender Ruairi McConville are just two I'd like to highlight in a team that is full of great talent and potential.

Do you think we will see some of these players break into the senior team come EURO 2028?

Absolutely. A lot of these players are the future of Northern Irish football and could go on to achieve great things by then. For the fans too, it is fantastic to have this level of football on their doorstep both in Belfast and Larne. I'd urge the fans to turn out in numbers, not only to support our boys but to also take in the other games too.

What advice do you have for all the players taking part in the tournament this year?

I would tell them to enjoy it and to go out and play with a smile on their face. For our boys, Gareth [McAuley] will have them well prepared, so it is down to them to enjoy every moment. I really believe this tournament will become one of the best memories of their careers, and it's an opportunity for them to show their talent in front of a global audience.

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