The families who are proud as punch of their boys; we talk to the loved ones of two Northern Ireland players ahead of this weekend’s opening matches
Dean McCullough admits he gets more nervous about son Luke’s big matches than the Northern Ireland defender probably does.
And there’s no doubt that tensions will be running high tomorrow as the Green and White Army take on Poland in their inaugural match at Euro 2016.
Twenty-two-year-old Luke, who plays centre-back for Doncaster Rovers, is in France with the rest of the Northern Ireland squad preparing for the tournament.
Dad Dean, 52, and his wife Shirleen will travel over to Nice today (Saturday), where they will be staying for a week, taking in two of the team’s three matches.
And yesterday their other son Scott, 24, headed out with a crowd of his friends to cheer on his little brother.
The only family member unfortunately not going is 18-year-old Holly, who is in the middle of her A levels at Portadown College.
“We are proud of Luke - but he’s still our son and he still needs grounded, and his feet kept on the ground,” laughs Dean.
“Did I give him any words of wisdom? He doesn’t listen to me anymore! No, we do have our wee conversations, I tell him to keep working hard and stuff like that. This certainly is for him the biggest tournament he has ever played in.
“He’s part of the squad which is great, and you just hope that he will get an opportunity to get on the pitch and play in one of the games.”
Dean reveals that Luke isn’t the kind of player to show his nerves, and is fairly laid back in his approach to his matches.
“We probably get more nervous before the games he’s going to be playing in, especially the bigger games with the bigger crowds.
“You feel nervous for him and just hope that everything goes well when he’s on the pitch.
“He’s a defender, so if he makes a mistake it can lead to the opposition scoring, so you just hope that that doesn’t happen.”
Dean’s football mad family booked their flights to the Euros the night the draw was done.
Him and Shirleen, who will actually celebrate her 50th birthday during their week away, are flying to Amsterdam first, then onto Nice.
“I never thought in my wildest dreams we would be booking those flights,” he adds.
“I have been a football fan all my life. We’re a football family, myself and my brother played football, and Scott played U16 and U18 for Northern Ireland as well, but has been unfortunate with illness and injury over this last four or five years.
“As for Holly, I think she would like to be coming too, to be part of the whole atmosphere, but unfortunately her exams have to come first.”
‘All Stuart’s ever wanted to do is to play for his country’
When Cookstown born footballer Stuart Dallas proposed to his childhood sweetheart Juneve Lamont in the most romantic city in the world in 2013, never in their wildest dreams did the Co Tyrone couple imagine that they’d be returning to France three years later so Stuart could represent his country in Euro 2016.
The pair set their wedding date for Friday June 3, 2016 - and then the unthinkable happened. Northern Ireland qualified for the tournament, and their opening games fell just a week after the Big Day.
While the mayhem meant that Stuart, who plays club football for Leeds United, where he and his new wife and four-year-old daughter Pixie are also based, was away in France in the days leading up to his wedding, his cool and collected wife-to-be handled all the final preparations with ease.
And now, whilst the tournament means they’ve had to put their honeymoon on hold, Juneve is excited to be travelling over to France with Pixie and some of Stuart’s family, to see her new husband play.
“I’m used to it all now,” she laughs, as I suggest that the constant travelling around in her midfielder husband’s wake is part of the fun of being a footballer’s wife.
“We had been living in London, and then had to move to Leeds. You just go where he has to go, to anywhere where he is going to be successful.”
The Dallas family left Northern Ireland in the early hours of yesterday (Friday) morning to travel to Nice, where they are staying for a week.
Then they’ll be heading up to Lyon, back to Nice, and finally, flying back to Paris for a second week.
They don’t, like so many fans, know exactly when they’ll be home.
Juneve says she’s thrilled for her husband, who made his Northern Ireland debut in a 2-0 defeat against Wales in May 2011, before going on to make 13 international appearances, and believes he deserves this chance to represent his country.
“I’m nervous for him, although I know he’s going to do an amazing job. I have faith in him and so does everyone, if anybody deserves it he does, he works so hard. I’m just really excited for him.”
The stunning brunette, who got together with Stuart when they were 16-year-old pupils at Cookstown High School, admits that she gets “emotional” when she sees her other half in his Northern Ireland strip.
“You just look at him in that green shirt, and he’s so proud; it’s all he ever wanted to do, play for his country, and now they are going to this massive tournament. I just couldn’t be any prouder of him.”
She added: “You do get the butterflies in your belly, thinking, ‘oh my word, please do well.’
“And Pixie is so excited, she’s counting down the sleeps till she sees her daddy. She was all excited the other day too to get her new Northern Ireland shirt. She goes to all the NI matches with me and when he’s on she just loves to watch him.”
Juneve says there were moments of stress in the run up to the Big Day, which took place at Cookstown Independent Methodist Church, with a lavish reception at Castle Leslie in Co Monaghan.
But they had the perfect day, she says, and would do it all again in a heartbeat.
And the excitement about going to France has given her something to look forward to in the absence of an immediate honeymoon.
“People have been asking if I’m not really down, and I’m saying no, I’m fine, because I’ve got this excitement coming as well. It’s one excitement leading into another.
“I’ve been running round this week trying to get sorted but I’m still on Cloud 9, thinking, my husband is away over in France and we’re going out to see him, and there is nothing else that you would wish for apart from him to do well.”