Dunne ready to step into the shop window
Dubliner eager for chance to prove his injury nightmares are finally behind him, writes Marie Crowe
Richard Dunne strolled into a portacabin in Malahide on Friday afternoon, sat down and put his black adidas moulded football boots on the table. He was relaxed after doing a light training session with the Ireland squad but admitted that, come kick-off time today in the Aviva Stadium, he will be nervous.
After the season he has had, a lot is riding on today's friendly. Since he played his last game over a year ago, he's had three operations, missed a hell of a lot of football and said goodbye to Aston Villa. So getting back on the field is more than a big deal. It's an indicator of where the centre-half is at, both fitness and football wise. It could determine what his future holds.
"The biggest thing for me is I have to play a bit of a match and see how I feel after it," explained Dunne, who knows he is in the shop window. "I really enjoyed training again with a full-strength squad, being part of it. And knowing that I can do it and I'm not too far out of pace.
"I want to prove to myself I can do it because I don't want to sign for a team and then spend next year in a gym again. I just want to play again and show I can get through it and be fit and can play next season."
Around this time last year, Paul Lambert told Dunne he was free to leave at the start of the new season. He'd had an ongoing hip and groin injury and when he went back for pre-season, it still didn't feel right. Even kicking the ball was a struggle, his muscles felt weak.
A scan revealed wear and tear requiring an operation to release his abductor, followed by six weeks'
rehab. The plan sounded simple, to go for surgery in July and be ready then to move clubs once the transfer window opened. The window opened and shut but Dunne still wasn't right.
Another operation, this time on his abdomen, was followed by another six weeks of rehab and still he wasn't making progress. Dunne was still suffering and so were his dreams. In November, he went to a specialist in America for a third operation.
Aston Villa had a terrible Christmas, conceding eight goals to Chelsea, four to Tottenham Hotspur and three at home to Wigan. And although Dunne wasn't in Lambert's original plans, he called him back to the squad for the home leg against Bradford in the Capital One Cup. But disaster struck for Dunne when he ruptured a muscle days before the game and was ruled out of action once more.
"I kept breaking down, it looks bad when you can't get over it, but it was never right, I was never medically in the right position to be fit, that was the most frustrating thing," explained Dunne.
All through his injured period Dunne set – and missed – targets for his recovery. The Aston Villa fans were wondering when he was coming back, his team were languishing near the bottom of the table while Dunne was in limbo struggling to make any headway.
"I wanted to be fit for the Germany match, I was close to being fit for that but broke down a couple of days before the squad was announced. Then I wanted to be fit for the November friendly, so I'm always trying to get to these deadlines of the next transfer window, this match, it's always for myself. Not making them, you feel like a failure, letting yourself down," said Dunne.
In typical Dunne fashion he never dropped his head. He ploughed on with rehab, spending time with an ice hockey team in America to work on the quick hip and groin movement they frequently demonstrate and slowly but surely he built himself back up.
He knew deep down Lambert and Aston Villa weren't interested in him long-term but, all the same, they looked after him, sent him to the best physicians in the world and kept in regular communication. "He (Lambert) spoke to me all the time and asked me how I was getting on, he was fine. We never had the opportunity where I was going to play or not so it didn't make a difference. He was helpful in getting certain things done as regards going to America."
A year behind schedule, Dunne is now on the road back to fitness and on the search for a new club. He says he is feeling good now. Playing against England last week would have been nice but for a comeback game the intensity would have been too much. Ideally, a reserve game behind closed doors would have worked best but since that's not an option, some part in a friendly against Georgia will do just fine.
If all goes well today Dunne is hopeful some clubs will come calling. So far, there are no offers on the table and at 33, that's not a great place to be so pay for play could become his only option.
"Unfortunately, that's the way my season has gone, I've put myself in the position where things like that are going to pop up. If I prove my fitness, it won't be a problem. It's important that I get somewhere that is beneficial and that I will play."
However Dunne is optimistic. His international team-mate Robbie Keane regularly sends back pictures of himself at the beach in America. Does he fancy it too? He wouldn't rule it out. But for now, he has Georgia on his mind.