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'i'm on track for euros'

NOT out of the woods yet but nearly. Richard Dunne will throw himself into a tackle at some point in the next 24 hours which will tell us whether June is to be endured rather than enjoyed.

His shoulder is now bionic, if that's the term used these days for someone with a metal plate lodged in his superstructure.

Presumably the plate will act as a shock absorber and extra protection. Maybe this is the future. Imagine a herd of American footballers suitably upholstered in Kevlar. You'd pay money to see that.

For those in Ireland and dispersed around Europe and the world gathering coinage for the trip to Poland, the financial and emotional investment requires Dunne's participation as a precondition.

There was a time when we shivered at the sight of Shay Given clutching damaged shoulders and feared the worst but that mantle has passed to Dunne. He is without any doubt, the one player Ireland cannot do without.

The country could do with a lot more people like him. He brings a zen calm to a room when he arrives and rarely strays from common sense.

He tells it as he sees it which is often a dangerous perch in occupy in our marvellous little country and on this occasion, immediately reassures his skittish audience that he has been running around with the Aston Villa youth team and feels ready to give it a full lash.

With those words Dunne eased the background anxiety which has increased steadily as we head towards the scrag end of the season and Ireland's best players suddenly loom larger on our television screens and every tackle looks terminal.

Dunne's straight-talking approach to his injury helps ease jangling nerves and in truth, he has never been less than confident that he would be fit to play in June.

At the very least, however, he knows he has to play in the two friendly games against Bosnia and Hungary.

Ideally, we would all like to see him join in Aston Villa's response to what has become a fairly sticky position at the bottom of the Premier League but even if that doesn't happen, he has been promised a few behind closed doors games by his club to help him.



FITNESS

"I want to play in them all, even if I played every game for Villa to the end of the season. I've been out for so long. But the club will arrange some games for me," he said.

"They are going out of their way because of the Euros. It's been a case of take your time, make sure everything is fine in the summer.

"Before I play for Villa, I'll know if I'm alright. The shoulder is alright when I knock it. I'm not allowed contact but when I go back I'll be in full training again.

"It's in your mind it's sore but I know it's not going to break because it's all plated, probably stronger now than before. I'd probably be better off running into a wall to try and find out," he added with a laugh.

Dunne was never as concerned as the rest of us about his future fitness but he had more information. "I was told straight away what it was and what was going to happen. The surgeon was at the game and said I would need an operation," he said.

"He told me what I would need to do at six weeks and then ten weeks, so it's gone to plan -- perfect. I saw him last week and he said go ahead."

Dunne's loyalty to Villa is considerable; so much so that he is willing to put his fitness on the line again. This following may not go down too well with Giovanni Trapattoni.

"It's probably too soon to go back but if I'm needed ... " he said with a shrug.

"But I have a pad which they say I should wear, it's an extra bit of protection."

So, all looking good then and time for Dunne to take a glimpse into the future viewed through the context of Chelsea's dogged resistance to Barcelona and the lessons to be learned for Ireland from that remarkable game in the Camp Nou.

"That's the game plan alright and maybe it is a necessity because they will have so much possession," said Dunne switching between Barcelona and Spain seamlessly, as is the reality.

"Chelsea were outstanding over two games in terms of concentration. That's what we will need. Once we do that and establish our mentality.

"Barcelona's Spanish players will possibly be a little deflated.

"They won't win anything for their club but they'll want to end the season on a high," he said, suggesting that Spanish complacency is unlikely to be an issue.

"It happens because they've won so much and it's harder each time. I can understand it at club level but for a national team, it's your country and you're trying to make everyone at home proud so I think they'll be as keen as ever."


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