Dunne thrilled at chance to ease hurt of watching World Cup from bench in 2002
THE countdown has started to the celebrations but the champagne is on ice for Ireland lionheart Richard Dunne.
The 32-year-old Aston Villa stalwart knows that, at 4-0 down from the first leg, Estonia are surely a beaten docket and yet he dare not allow the nation's celebratory mood deflect from the professional task that lies ahead.
That said, Dunne could permit himself a brief reflection on the last time -- indeed the only time up to this campaign -- that Ireland contested the European Championship finals.
The year was 1988, the month was June, the sun shone brightly and, like any kid in Tallaght, Dunne was captivated by soccer fever that month.
Aged eight -- he didn't turn nine until September that year -- Dunne didn't know anything about positions or team formations. It was just about football on the streets and in the local parks and 'being' one of the green-jerseyed heroes in the pick-up games that mushroomed wherever youngsters gathered and could find someone who owned a ball.
Dunne recalls: "Euro '88 captured the imagination of the whole country. There wasn't a kid in the streets that wasn't playing football and wanting an Ireland jersey, and wanting to be Paul McGrath or Ray Houghton or whoever.
"I remember that as a family we all sat around and watched the matches, and every family on the road did the same.
"It was a new experience for all our parents, and for everyone in the country, so everyone sat down and enjoyed the whole lot of it.
"I was probably a bit too young to be playing organised football at the time. I might have gone into the mini-leagues after that, I think.
"I mean, none of us had positions when we were kids, we all just loved to score and we enjoyed it. We liked every one of the Irish players, and they were heroes when they all came back to Dublin.
"We all enjoyed it and it's been a long time now, so hopefully we can inspire the next generation of kids to come through and play football."
Dunne will earn his 71st cap tonight and while Giovanni Trapattoni has many reasons to thank the courageous centre-back for sterling service, particularly away to Russia in September, the feeling is mutual.
The big Dubliner made his international debut under Mick McCarthy in April 2000 against Greece in a friendly, but when it came to the 2002 World Cup finals, Dunne travelled but couldn't get a game as Gary Breen and Steve Staunton nailed down the centre-back positions.
McCarthy's successor, Brian Kerr, mostly preferred John O'Shea and Kenny Cunningham at the heart of his defence, but under the Steve Staunton/ Bobby Robson regime in the Euro 2008 qualifiers, Dunne was utilised far more regularly.
Trapattoni then made Dunne his go-to guy once he was appointed and for manager, player and team, it has been a match made in heaven.
Summer 2012 opens up a new chapter in Dunne's career and a chance to play in a major finals after Japan and Korea in 2002 is long overdue, particularly as he didn't lace his boots for competitive action on that eventful trip.
"Well, you always have hope and when you're younger you probably take it for granted that you'll reach a finals, but it has taken this long and you've got to savour it even more," he says.
"Anyone who goes to any game, you want to play in it, whether it's a World Cup or a friendly. If you're part of the squad you want to be on the pitch and to not play was disappointing for those 90 minutes every few days in 2002.
"The trip overall was a good experience, but I think even the lads who were playing were glad, after Spain beat us, to get home because it had been so long.
"But it was an experience that everyone enjoyed. Obviously, the lads who played have special memories, like Robbie (Keane) and Damien (Duff) both scoring goals, it was great for them.
"Now, hopefully, we're going to Poland in the summer and there will be players who won't play but, hopefully, they'll enjoy the experience as much as the rest of us."
The questions didn't stop coming about Poland and Ukraine next summer but there's still 90 minutes of football to be played tonight against Estonia.
"We were saying to ourselves, 'if we do (qualify) can you imagine the atmosphere?' but it's probably going to be a different atmosphere to what we expected," says Dunne. "We'd like it to be a show, but the big problem about that is Estonia. They're not going to come here and let us walk over them.
"The manager said they're a wounded side coming here and they're a proud country who aren't going to lie down and be beaten easily, so the show can come later on.
"The performance has to be about attitude and professionalism. For us, it's about power and strength and over-running teams. That's what will do it for us."
Money and qualification bonuses are low on the agenda for Dunne and the players, but they've given Trapattoni their vote of confidence.
"We all make enough money at our clubs and playing for Ireland is an honour, it's not about money," insists Dunne.
"The manager's record speaks for itself. In the campaigns before he came, we weren't looking like we were going to qualify, and this time we've always been in with a chance of topping the group or the play-off.
"He's built the squad over the last four years and I think he can carry that on and hopefully get us to the next World Cup."