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Dunne: i need to prioritise my future

FOR the first time in almost two decades, Robbie Keane and Richard Dunne will no longer be team-mates when it comes to international football.

Right back to May 1996, when the two boys from Tallaght played for the Irish U16s in a European Championship campaign in Austria (which, as it happens, ended in a defeat to the French, on penalties), they have soldiered together in green, winning 214 senior caps, but that alliance is now severed, Dunne making public his decision to retire from international football.

And even a late conversation with Keane could not persuade Dunne to stay on and try for his eighth qualifying campaign with Ireland.

For Dunne, it's all about the numbers: he turns 35 in a matter of weeks, he'll be edging towards his 37th birthday by the time Euro 2016 comes around, he played 48 games for club and country last season, and it's simply time to move off the stage.

"People probably thought I retired two years ago. It happens, players get into their 30s, it's to be expected I suppose. It was just the time for me," says Dunne.

"I had a chat with Robbie, me and Robbie being roommates for the last 10 or 12 years. He understood my reasons, he's probably a year younger than me, he's stills scoring goals, he'll continue for as long as he possibly can.

"You make a decision, people around you trust that you thought about it, it's not like a quick decision, something I thought about for it for a while and for me it's the right one."

Dunne's old team-mates Shay Given and Damien Duff decided to retire in the aftermath of Euro 2012 and the thought did cross Dunne's mind, but he had hoped that a successful World Cup campaign for Brazil 2014 could erase the bad memories from Poland 2012.

"I didn't want to finish on the Euros the way they went, I wanted to have a go at qualifying for the World Cup, but I missed games, it was difficult in the long run to come to this decision but I have been in semi-retirement with Ireland for a while now," says Dunne, who has played only a handful of games since Euro 2012 and did not play at all under Martin O'Neill.

While it was not exactly a rift between player and manager, there was a feeling of coolness between Dunne and O'Neill. Dunne did not report for duty for the four-game series of matches at the end of last season and when he was asked about the QPR man's future when he spoke in Mullingar a week ago, O'Neill sounded less than enthusiastic about a Dunne return.

Dunne says there was no significance to his no-show for the games in May/June. "I had played 49 out of 50-odd games for QPR and Ireland, having not played any the year before, and that was a lot of games for me. So four games at the end of the season was too physically much for me, I needed as much of a break as I could get," he says.

"I rang John Delaney and Martin on Thursday morning and had a quick chat with them both.

"Martin respects the decision I made, that's the way it is. If I had played one or two more games and if things weren't to go right and I had to retire, it looks worse then. So I just think it's best to make a clean cut before it all starts," added Dunne, whose last cap came under interim boss Noel King against Kazakhstan in October.

RELY ON

"A new manager comes in, it's best for him to have people he knows he can rely on for a few years and I didn't feel I could offer that at this stage of my career.

It was a progression of life, you get old and you have to stop at some stage," says Dunne, admitting that uncertainity over his career overall - he's now on one-year contracts - also played on his minds, despite his success at QPR last season.

"Ideally everything goes well this season, I will have a good season and get a contract for another season. But at the end of this season I might not have a contract, there is no point in me trying to get to the Euros with Ireland if I have no club to play for."

When Given and Duff retired, they both stated that they would be available to come back and play for Ireland again in an emergency but that's not on the cards for Dunne - he is done.

"The team has moved on over the last while and will again in the next period. There are a lot of players now at centre half so we are covered in that position," says the Dubliner, trying to remain optimistic about the future despite the apparent lack of top-level Premier League players.

"It always looks after itself, the Irish squad. People always say there's not enough Premier League experience or players but once you get the group of lads together they are as strong as anything," Dunne admits.

"That's the thing we have about us, this spirit, we are not expected to do well but continually we do, we pull out big results and put in big performances.

"We have the two lads at Everton, James and Séamus, are world-class players and there are plenty more, the squad is full of players who have played international football and have experience and over time, this squad will gel. I am sure in this campaign we will have a really good run at it."

While he didn't get any game time at the tournament, the 2002 World Cup finals was a highlight for Dunne.

"When we qualified for the World Cup was brilliant," he says. "The team we had, the experience of being at the World Cup, coming back to the Phoenix Park, it was brilliant, something I had watched as a youngster with the Euro '88 team and to be part of something like that was brilliant.

"Because I have only just decided, for definite, to retire I have not had time to relax and sit back to look at all the games but there have been so many highs and good experiences over the years.

"In terms of players, Robbie was the best I played with, the amount of times he has done it, the goals he has scored, he is there for every game and is fit all the time, he's a threat in every game and the career he's had, outside of Ireland, has been outstanding. He is the one player who stands head and shoulders over the rest of us."

Of course he still has a Premier League season with QPR to look forward to, and today's friendly against Shamrock Rovers in his home town. "I have asked for 20 tickets," he says of the Rovers match.

"I am looking forward to it as I have never played in the stadium, it's walking distance for my ma and da to come down so it's something I am looking forward to. My da has medals at home from winning the League of Ireland with Rovers a long time ago so it should be good and it'd be nice to have all my family there."


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