Modest Dunne's warrior-like performance in Moscow recalled
'If anyone wants to remember me . . . well, that's for them'
IN the Morrison Room of Kildare's Carton House Hotel yesterday, Richard Dunne sat back in his chair and shyly smiled.
Half an hour had passed since he had answered the first of the questions about his decision to retire from international football, but this one forced him to pause and consider the implications of his answer.
As he deliberated, his face blushed slightly, out of embarrassment. Dunne, you see, doesn't do narcissism, but now he was asked to, or more specifically, asked how he would like to be remembered.
"It's kind of a corny question," he said, fiddling with his fingers, laughing at the pomposity of it all. "It's not for me to say. If anyone wants to remember me... well, that's for them."
What he will be remembered for is Moscow. He was 31 then. The son of a footballer – Dickie – Dunne had been around the international scene for over a decade, playing a major role in qualification for the 2002 World Cup finals before he travelled halfway round the world to sit on a bench.
But after Japan and Korea, Irish football went backwards. One missed opportunity followed another as tournament after tournament took place on foreign fields between foreign teams.
Ireland, meanwhile, looked on, its sporting community increasingly underwhelmed by what the national team was doing. A nation turned its eyes to rugby and Brian O'Driscoll, to Gaelic football and Colm Cooper, to hurling and Henry Shefflin.
And Irish soccer? A generation had grown up with the Premier League pumped into their living rooms. Kids followed Manchester United, Chelsea or Liverpool and allowed the Aviva Stadium to mostly remain half-empty for internationals.
And then, out of nowhere, on a Wednesday in September 2011, a man emerged to play the game of his life, not only helping the Irish team secure a draw against Russia, but to also reconnect with their public.
It was a performance which persuaded Dunne's hero, Paul McGrath, to tweet that it was the best display an Irishman had ever produced – "including myself."
That day was his greatest. The image of him changing a blood-stained shirt to go back onto the pitch, even though his right-cheek had a bruise the size of a golf ball on it, resonated with everyone. Within 24 hours, his former neighbour from three doors down rang to ask for his improvised, claret-coloured, No 5 shirt.
"Everyone wants it – the FAI, the sponsors," Dunne explained.
Still he gave it to his neighbour and friend Vinny Perth, because he knew it would be auctioned off for charity with the proceeds from the shirt's sale going to Barretstown and Tallaght Children's Hospital – places that had taken care of Perth's brother, Stephen.
"Will I be remembered?" he asked yesterday.
There are some things people never forget. But time moves on.
"Unfortunately we grow old," he reminded us. It's part of life. And the time has come for me to move on.
"The facts are that the team has moved on over the last while and will evolve further over the next period. There are a lot of players now at centre-half.
"We are covered in that position. I thought about all this over the summer, had a chat with my ma and da and told them I was thinking about calling it a day because it's something that has been on my mind for a while.
"I knew what I wanted to do, but being able to admit it is over for you can be hard. For me the time was right. I won't be coming back. When you decide to go, you go."
So, on Wednesday morning, he picked up the phone and called Martin O'Neill. And then Robbie Keane.
Separated by a year and a few streets, they had known each other as kids, befriended one another by the time they were teenage stars and shared a room on international duty for the guts of 12 years.
Dunne's news hardly caused a shock.
"I didn't want to finish my Ireland days after the Euros given the way they went. I wanted to have a go at qualifying for the World Cup, but I missed games.
"It was difficult to come to this decision but I have been in semi-retirement with Ireland for a while now," said Dunne who is in the QPR squad for today's friendly against Shamrock Rovers in Tallaght.
"The team is progressing. A new manager has come in and it's best for him to have people he knows he can rely on for a few years. I didn't feel I could offer that to him at this stage of my career. It's a progression of life. You get old and you stop at some stage."
And off the stage he goes, certain – despite his modesty – to be remembered.