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Dunne: I'm so excited

THERE’S A TALE about the international football careers of two Irishmen who play for Aston Villa.One is a balding lad from Cork who decided to quit playing for his country in his early 20s and appeared proud to say: "I just never enjoyed it. I think internationals are going to be something of the past. The pride of it and all that, I just think it’s getting lesser and lesser. Players these days don’t see it as pride in their country, they see it more as a chore."

Then take Stephen Ireland’s team-mate Richard Dunne, who underlined his commitment to playing for the Republic of Ireland in a very clear way only this week. Dunne is off on a sun holiday with his wife and two children (age three and six). And Aston Villa’s fitness coach has come along as well, possibly the first time in international football that a medical expert has gone along as a gooseberry on a family holiday to make sure that a player is fit.

Dunne’s eyes still sparkle when he recalls memories of Italia ‘90 as a kid and he still has a giddy excitement about playing for Ireland at Euro 2012, his first time to play in a major finals having been a non-playing passenger at the 2002 World Cup.

"I’m away with my family for a week but I think the Villa fitness coach might come along, my wife’s not too happy," jokes Dunne, who has worked extra-hard to recover from the shoulder injury he picked up in February which threatened to end his season. "

The club have been brilliant with me. They’ve helped me back at times during my injury and said to me: ‘Look, just make sure you’re ready for the Euros and then I’ve said I wanted to play and they said, ‘Are you sure?’.

"After I was in Dublin last month I texted the manager on the plane on the way back and told him that I was fit and wanted to play.

"I just wanted to be here with Ireland because it means so much to me to play," added Dunne, who completed another 90 minutes for his club last Sunday on the final day of the Premier League season.

"I remember Euro ‘88, just watching it in the house with the family. Italy 1990 the same, we were all out on the street at half-time pretending we were Packie Bonner or Dave O’Leary, Paul McGrath.

"It was all that anyone spoke about. There was bunting around and everything was there.

"It’s something now that we can hopefully recreate. It will give the whole country a boost," added Dunne, who says he got his first taste of the tournament football which he’ll experience next month when he played in the famous mini-leagues up in Home Farm.

"Yeah, we played in the mini World Cups at Home Farm, it’s how I started. It probably wasn’t as high profile but the same type of competition, with three groups and all that. From an early age I was getting into it."

That’s why Dunne says he hasn’t yet made a call on his international f]ootball future, as he wants to see how Euro 2012 pans out. "I can’t make a decision because I can’t know how I will feel after the Euros. The big thing is, in two years, how will I feel? Will I be able to do it again, I don’t know. I think for me it’s about this one and whatever happens after that, happens," Dunne says.

"If it goes badly for us in the Euros and I want to put it right, that could be a factor. I don’t want to think about not playing for Ireland, I just want to concentrate on this.

"Family is a consideration, having young kids and being away is tough. Sometimes you play on Saturday, play on Wednesday (for Ireland), you’re knackered after it but have to go again the following Saturday. It’s tough.

"There are loads of different things that come into consideration. If someone does retire I’m sure it will be with a heavy heart as we all want to carry on and play forever but you have to be sensible, and the manager might have young players coming through who would replace us so it might not be our decision."

Dunne will be a key player for Ireland next month and, barring injury, will play every minute of every game as long as Ireland are involved, and he can’t wait.

"It’s brilliant, it’s taken ten years. You go to a tournament you want to play and you don’t get that opportunity to play so you think, ‘Well, when the next Euros or the next World Cup comes around we’ll be there and I’ll hopefully play in that’.

"It’s taken ten years for it to come around. Not to go and to have the opportunity to go is brilliant and it’s what we’ve always wanted as footballers growing up.

"You want to be part of an Ireland team playing in a major tournament. It’s good because the group we’ve got as well is against the best teams in the world, it’s the excitement of having to play against the best and hopefully challenging them.

"You don’t think that it’s never going to come, you think when it starts again that this is it, this is it, this is it. As it goes through and it’s not working out, it’s we’ll get to the next one, the next one, the next one.

"I was talking to someone earlier about the Irish being eternal optimists. We always believe it will get better, eventually we got there.

"Unfortunately it’s taken so long but we’re there to make the most of it this time."

Dunne will join his team-mates in Dublin next Sunday and start the hard work which will build up to that crucial game against Croatia on June 10th, with tactical lessons from the manager now more important than ever.

"I think the way we play, we’re not going to have the majority of possession in the games," Dunne admits.

"We’re going to concede it a lot to the likes of Spain and Italy and probably Croatia as well because they’ve got better technical players than us. We’re going to have to defend for our lives in every game but we do feel we’ve got opportunities to score as well.

"We’ve got one of the highest scorers in European football up front and we’ve got people who can deliver with set pieces, deliveries. We know we will create chances so the main thing is keeping clean sheets and that will get us the points hopefully."

Richard Dunne was speaking at the launch of the ‘Three On The Quay’ events in George’s Dock, an event for supporters during the Euro 2012 finals. See 3football.ie