Stuart Dallas admits he is “loving life” with Northern Ireland – and he is determined to continue his international romance for as long as possible.
The Leeds United star earned his 12th cap on Monday night against Slovenia at Windsor Park.
Dallas is assured of his place in Michael O’Neill’s 23-man squad for this summer’s Euros in France.
It has been a meteoric rise for the former Crusaders winger, who six years ago was playing intermediate football with Coagh United.
It was 12 months ago that Dallas came off the bench to help Northern Ireland seal a 2-1 win over Finland.
He went on to start the next five qualifiers for Northern Ireland.
It is a football fairytale that shows no signs of relenting as the 24-year-old eyes up this summer’s Euro finals.
“I was talking to Kyle (Lafferty) before the Slovenia game and I was saying I had only one cap until this time last year – and I have 12 now,” he said.
“I’m loving every single second of it and I just want to push on and hopefully get many more.
“We’ve got a good squad here and there’s good depth in it. You see that even in the lads who weren’t in the squad.
“Michael (O’Neill) has a good group to pick from and it doesn’t weaken the team.
“You need to be able to look at different formations and players going into the tournament.
“Over the two games we’ve shown that we can be versatile.”
Northern Ireland stretched their unbeaten run to 10 games with Monday’s 1-0 win against Slovenia – eclipsing the long-standing record of the lauded Billy Bingham squads of the 1980s.
Another impressive statistic is that Dallas played in all 10 of those unbeaten fixtures under current boss O’Neill.
“For me personally, to play in every game during the 10-game unbeaten run is really special,” Dallas added.
“It’s not about any of us on a personal level though, it’s about the team and we’ve got there and long may it continue.”
One proud spectator on Monday night was Dallas’ ill grandfather Jimmy Bigger – a lifelong fan who has watched his grandson’s career scale new heights.
“My granda was there, he wasn’t fit enough to get up and down the steps but he wanted to be there and it was great to get a photo with him straight after the game,” Dallas said.
“After everything he’s come through, it was great to have him there.
“He used to go to see me at playing for Crusaders so I was grateful to David Currie from the Irish FA who was able to sort out a tickets which was ideal for him.
“It was great to break the record but having my granda there as well was a bonus and made it all the more special for me.”
Despite becoming a mainstay of Northern Ireland’s Euro journey, Dallas accepts there is no room for complacency as he looks to book his flight to France.
“Everyone knows they have to be on their toes,” he said.
“It’s a good problem for Michael to have to pick from a pool of players. I don’t think there’s extra pressure on the players, it just means people have to put in a good performance when they get the chance.”