We won’t be in Euro 2012 to make up the numbers – Richard Dunne
Published 15/11/2011 | 09:41
Richard Dunne has warned his Republic of Ireland team-mates that the hard work will begin only after they have qualified for Euro 2012.
Ireland will book their place at next summer's finals provided they do not lose tonight's play-off second leg clash with Estonia even more heavily than the crushing 4-0 defeat they inflicted on Tarmo Ruutli's men in Tallinn on Friday.
However, while Dunne would be thrilled to be rubbing shoulders with the continent's elite after travelling to the 2002 World Cup finals without kicking a ball in anger, he insists the Republic would not be there simply to make up the numbers.
The 32-year-old Aston Villa defender said: "We have not qualified yet - hopefully we will have, and then the hard work starts.
"There's no point in us going there thinking we have done our job and we have done ourselves proud.
"We have to go there and compete and hopefully pick up results when we get over there.
"We have to believe that. There's no point saying, 'We have qualified and that's it, we are all delighted to qualify'.
"We have to now move on to the next step and our aim is then to qualify from the group, hopefully."
Two years ago, Ireland's play-off adventure infamously ended in heartache and acrimony in France with Thierry Henry cast in the role of pantomime villain.
However, despite his desolation, Dunne insists he was always confident that his chances of appearing in a finals tournament had not gone for good.
He said: "I think the performances in France and in that group confirmed to everyone that we were building a decent side and that the opportunities would come.
"Thankfully it has worked out just a couple of years down the line.
"It's obviously a different competition, a different time. It's all about tomorrow and the past is forgotten about.
"Over the last two campaigns especially, we have been building and building.
"The aim was probably to try to win the group this time around - we haven't done that, but things have worked out really well and we go into tomorrow's game with a really great chance of qualifying."
Avoiding defeat tonight - something Giovanni Trapattoni's side has done in its last 10 games, conceding just a single goal in the process - would secure their passage to Poland and the Ukraine, and after 10 years of hurt, the sense anticipation in the country is almost palpable.
Dunne said: "It would be amazing. We have all been waiting for it for a long time.
"Since we got into the play-off and got seeded and we knew we would have the second game in Dublin, we felt whatever we could do away from home, we would have a good chance back here with the atmosphere.
"If we can qualify there and hopefully win the game as well, it would just make it a special atmosphere."