Being part of Trap’s army has been tough business of late. Six clean sheets in a row, sale a new record for Ireland in international football, was not enough to satisfy his troops in the stands who seemed to be turning up to matches in fewer and fewer numbers. A 2-0 victory over the Italians in a friendly somewhere in Belgium didn’t do the trick either, nor did a 5-0 victory against our neighbours in the North. This dissatisfaction culminated in the response to Ireland’s dire 0-0 draw with Slovakia on Friday where a many decided to voice their disapproval of the team through one of the more disheartening ways – booing them off the pitch. However, yesterday’s match in Moscow has thrown up perhaps our only hope, a man who we can trust in, a man who would leave himself bloodied and battered for the sake of his country. Yesterday’s match reminded us of the brilliance of Richard Dunne.
He wasn’t always like this. A member of the 2002 world cup squad, Dunne didn’t see a minute of action in the Far East. The following year, boozy antics and other disciplinary issues led to a suspension from Man City and it was only then that the Tallaght man saw the light. Irish football fans may not know it, but we owe a huge debt of gratitude to Kevin Keegan. The ultimatum he gave in 2003 to the then 23 year old – stop messing around, lose weight or else you’re out of the club – proved a turning point in Dunne’s career. From this point on, Dunne has been a model of consistency.
Perhaps the reason many of us adore Dunne is his old-school style of defending which has become more and more refreshing in the modern game. Throwing his head and legs into tackles he has no right to be going for, and invariably coming out the right side of them, shows courage and bravery that are desperately lacking in so many currently playing at the highest level of football. A piece of play mid-way through the second half in the Luzhniki Stadium yesterday evening typified this as Dunne charged forward from his own penalty area, got dispossessed, and charged back to make up for his mistake by delivering a perfectly timed tackle on the unsuspecting Russian attacker to clear the ball out of play. It sounds simple in print, but the determination with which this was done sparked a reaction from those of us watching which gave us the belief than a most improbable draw was now possible.
The old-school style of defending also briefly left 31 year old out in the cold in the premier league. Having recently taken up the role of Chief Executive of Man City in 2008, Garry Cook infamously spoke of how “China and India are gagging for football content to watch and we’re going to tell them that City is their content. We need a superstar to get through that door. Richard Dunne doesn’t roll off the tongue in Beijing.” It would have been easy for the defender to throw a massive strop over such an outrageous comment, and yet, he still acted with humility throughout. Just over a year later, having signed for Aston Villa, he exacted his revenge on his former club in the way that a player of his calibre and class knows best by scoring a crucial goal against his former employers.
Ireland now have an opportunity to qualify for the European Championships in a year’s time thanks to Dunne, as well as the heroics of Shay Given (of whom I could have easily written a similar post about). Armenia must also get some thanks for doing to Slovakia what we couldn’t do last Friday and exposing just how poor a side the Slovakians really are. Two more wins and we’ll have either qualified automatically for a trip to Poland and Ukraine next summer or lined ourselves up for our fifth play-offs in sixteen years. For the eleven years of service which has been dominated by immense courage and fearlessness, Richard Dunne deserves to play in a major international tournament. Let’s hope that the other players can imitate his performances over the coming games to give him that chance.