Ian Parker, PA
Ian Baraclough called Stuart Dallas “the natural choice” to captain Northern Ireland in Sunday’s friendly against Malta in Austria.
A decade and three days after making his international debut against Wales in Dublin, the Leeds midfielder will lead out the side for the second time in his career in the absence of regular skipper Steven Davis and vice-captain Jonny Evans.
“I’ve made him captain for a previous game and he’s proven to be a leader in the group, he leads by example,” said Baraclough, who also gave Dallas the armband against Austria last November.
👏 @dallas_stuart 🎯 #GAWA pic.twitter.com/RU8Igx0cXw
— Northern Ireland (@NorthernIreland) May 29, 2021
“For me it was a natural choice and he’s the right person.”
Baraclough had not insisted on his senior players making this trip but Dallas said he had no hesitation despite an intense campaign with Leeds on their return to the Premier League.
“It probably would have been easy (not to come), but that’s not what I’m about,” he said. “Where we are as a group, I think it’s important as senior players you set an example to the younger players coming in.
“We want to have the right culture and that means turning up to these games. We’re in a privileged position, it’s a privilege and an honour to be here, and I enjoy coming and meeting up with the boys.”
After scooping up three of Leeds’ end-of-season awards – player of the year, players’ player of the year and goal of the season for his last-minute match-winner at Manchester City – it is perhaps understandable if Dallas does not want the campaign to end.
“It was a good season for me, and for the club it was a brilliant first season back in the Premier League,” Dallas added.
“Obviously the individual awards that came along with that were nice, although I’m not sure about goal of the season, it was more a moment, but I’ve had a great season.
“I’ve been fit, that’s the main thing, and that’s why I want to come here to try to continue that.”
Baraclough will go into Sunday’s game with 22 players available after George Saville joined up with the group and trained on Friday.
Dan Ballard remains with Blackpool ahead of Sunday’s Sky Bet League One play-off final against Lincoln while Kyle Lafferty, out of contract after Kilmarnock’s relegation, is due to travel on Sunday – coming into contention for Thursday’s friendly against Ukraine.
However, Baraclough said Linfield striker Shayne Lavery will remain with the Irish League champions to see the season out.
“You want everybody with you as much as possible but I spoke to Shayne about Linfield and the success he’s had,” Baraclough said. “He’s coming to the end of his second season, he’s probably going to leave the club.
“It’s not often as a young player you get to lift a trophy, it’s not often you win player of the year and young player of the year in the same season. For me to bring him here and take him out of that… for him as a young player, I think he’s got to go and enjoy that.”
Baraclough has selected a youthful group with several senior players out for various reasons, and will look to these games to expand his options before the World Cup qualifying campaign resumes in September.
“It is one of those rare opportunities where you can play one or two out of position, where you think they might be able to impact a game,” he said.
“Certainly we want to come out with two positive results and I think we’ve got a squad capable of doing that, starting against Malta.
“We need to prepare properly and the guys have worked really hard to do that. It’s certainly not been an end-of-season tour where everyone is enjoying themselves.
“We’ve had some downtime and we’ve used that to integrate some young players, and that’s where Stuart, Craig Cathcart and Niall McGinn, the senior members in the group, played their part to ensure the young guys understand what it’s all about.”