Monday 24 November 2014

Dunne never expected to enter to the sound of trumpets

Published 02/08/2014 | 02:30

Richard Dunne's performance in Moscow cemented his place in Irish fans' affections. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
Richard Dunne's performance in Moscow cemented his place in Irish fans' affections. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

They used say of Arnold Palmer that the only thing he did right with a golf club was shoot low scores. Nothing he did was poetic or particularly elegant but, at his best, Palmer took care of business better than anyone else around. Seems to me they cut Richard Dunne from much the same cloth.

It's hard not to think of Garry Cook's asinine observation about the Tallaght man's name not rolling off the tongue in Beijing whenever Dunne comes into the conversation. It is five years old now and was made as Manchester City shipped out a defender who had been voted the supporters' player of the year for four consecutive seasons.

Cook was the mouthy, self-regarding executive chairman who would, in time, leave City under a cloud. Dunne? He was just an employee, the club's most dependable player undoubtedly, but far too low-watt a personality for Cook's vision of a cast with global charisma.

Funny, that very same off-field reticence always struck me as a fundamental part of the reason Dunne became Ireland's best-loved footballer of the past 15 years. Moscow was a big part of that, no question.

But there has always been something innately dignified about him too. He never seemed to believe he should be entering a room to the sound of trumpets.

Dunne was flawed and human and armed with a physical courage that, frequently, thieved the breath away.

Once Kevin Keegan identified the fitness issues that needed to be addressed, he became one of the best defenders in the Premier League. To do this, he needed the humility to absorb Keegan's warning.

ASSESSMENT

Earlier this year, Dunne described that process as "part of growing up really", a typically self-deprecating assessment of a time through which many believed that his career in the game might prematurely end.

Most football teams are only as good as their leaders and, eventually, leadership seemed to come naturally to Richard Dunne. Not the overt, fist-clenching, Charlie Big Potatoes stuff. He led simply by taking on-field responsibility, by putting his head in places others wouldn't risk studs.

Dunne, essentially, bypassed the perpetual debate about marking zone or man. He ignored both just by attacking any delivery that spelt danger. After City, he became a central beam of the meanest Aston Villa defence since Paul McGrath was a darling of the Holte End.

And that seemed fitting because, in his capacity to address danger, Dunne was the nearest thing to the 'Black Pearl' that Villa or Ireland summoned in the last two decades.

Approaching 35, he is probably wise to step away from international football now.

It is assumed that Harry Redknapp might use him sparingly this season, given QPR's recent recruiting of Rio Ferdinand and Steven Caulker.

Yet, Ferdinand and Caulker might be wise not to invest too deeply in that assumption.

Because Dunne's only interest in football has been in the game itself, the battle. Money, privilege, celebrity ... they never came across as conspicuous motivations in his life.

People often wonder why he seemed tranquil as a monk, sitting in Thierry Henry's company on the Stade de France pitch that notorious night in November of '09. But what on earth did they expect of him?

Dunne fought his wars on the field and left them there. If he knew that Henry cheated, he knew too that professional football was never about adherence to the 10 Commandments. In a hard world, he saw the worthlessness of piety.

His boots will be hard to fill, but that is the way with giants.

Irish Independent

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