Sunday 18 February 2018

Dunne: We must stick with what we're good at

Richard Dunne believes Ireland are at their best with an aggressive mentality. Photo: James Crombie/INPHO
Richard Dunne believes Ireland are at their best with an aggressive mentality. Photo: James Crombie/INPHO
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

On Monday night, Richard Dunne watched events from Belgrade as an Irish supporter. He was frustrated by the one-dimensional approach.

"You're thinking, 'Jesus, just do something different. Just pass it there'," he smiles. "It drives you mad."

But with his footballer hat on, Dunne knew exactly what Martin O'Neill's team were going through. He'd been that soldier before, the Irish player trapped in a game where the approach is direct and precision is less important than perspiration.

Subconsciously, defenders drop deep and invite pressure.

"It's exactly the sort of performance we've been putting in for years," he shrugs. "It is too easy to watch it and criticise; and look at it from different angles when you are on the pitch, all you can see is Serbian jerseys.


"It's frustrating for fans and it must be frustrating for the players who are running left and right and then left and right and not getting a touch of the ball. But I listened to the manager afterwards saying it's all about the result and that's normal - because nobody will remember in two years if we qualify that we were crap."

From his own experience, the only time where it was really different was when Roy Keane was in his pomp. That was a period where he would drop short and demand the ball and the team could play it out from there.

He ranks a lot of the subsequent midfielders in the same bracket.

"The faces and the names change but the levels have never really been up or down too much, apart from when Roy was there and he was one of the best midfielders in the world," explains Dunne. "Since then, there has been midfielders of a similar sort of style and they all play football at their clubs.

"I don't know why it is, but it's just different when you play for Ireland. We never went out training and they (managers) said just lash it, just clear it and don't pass to your midfielders.

"But when the game comes around you follow the game. I don't know whether it's the way we were brought up on just trying to score a goal, just get the ball as far away from your goal and then go from there. I don't think you can blame the quality of the players because they are just doing what comes naturally I suppose."

Games with France and in France have been cited as exceptions to the rule. The 2009 play-off where players took matters in their own hands is referenced as a top-drawer display.

Dunne's take: "It wasn't about the football, it was about where we were going to squeeze them. Standing on the edge of their box for goal kicks so they had to kick the ball long. With that, we had more of the ball because we were taking it off them more often. We played with a little bit of freedom then, the old street kids came out in all of us."

And this summer's Euros? "At times there was a bit of football played," he concedes. "But it wasn't a whole new concept of football or anything. It was just different spells in games. I wouldn't say it was outstanding; it was just effective."

He believes that Ireland are at their best with an aggressive mentality which makes other teams fearful of visiting Dublin. "It's always been about fight, tackle, get the ball in the box and see what you can do," he says. "That's the style of play we are used to."

Changing that strategy risks a barren spell - he thinks international windows are too short to bring about immediate change - and he is unsure if the punters would tolerate sacrificing entire campaigns. He looks across the water to England and sees the perils.

"England are hopeless as well at the moment because they've gone too much the other way where they just pass it for passing's sake at times," he asserts.

"And in the Champions League, the English teams started to try and play in a continental way and became less effective because the British bulldog spirit was one thing which helped them in Europe.

"They've not been able to reach the latter stages because they've put themselves on a level playing field with everyone else rather than sticking with what they're good at and with Ireland that's what we've got to learn.

"If we go and start trying to play football, well everyone else has been doing it for 20 years so they're all probably better than us so we should just do what we are good at.

"I'm sure the lads know the other night that they weren't great performance-wise but they got the result so they'll be happy anyways."

He worked under Martin O'Neill and acknowledges that he is a good fit for Ireland's style. Dunne doesn't think that his philosophy is drastically different from Giovanni Trapattoni.

But he also reckons that O'Neill would not have explicitly urged Ireland to sit back in Serbia.

"When I played at Aston Villa under Martin, it was similar as we would soak up pressure and then have fast lads up front. And then at set-pieces we would be strong," he recalls.

Dunne enjoyed the simplicity of his approach, the match-day motivation that set him apart from other bosses.

He recalled a discussion before his debut at Birmingham along with fellow new signing James Collins.

"We were like, 'What are the tactics and where should we be marking?' and he just said, 'The size of the two of youse, just go and head the ball away' and that was it.

"And to the midfielders, he was like, 'I bought you because I thought you were a good player so just go and do it.' That was as far as tactics went. It sounds so basic, but it's effective. We finished sixth in the Premier League.

"He'd tell you are the best player. He would go around and probably tell the other centre-half the same. But everyone got their own energy off him and he was brilliant. Although if you made a mistake, you'd probably still know about it in six months' time.

"But I think he's been brilliant for Ireland. I'm sure he has staff that will concentrate on the details of training but, come the match, all you want to do is feel positive. If someone tells you that you're great every day or week it wears off but with internationals it's every now and then and it makes you feel good."

That belief can motivate players to go out and do remarkable things. It ties in with his recollections of the great Irish days.

"It's never a composed, controlled demolition," he says. "Kids growing up watching these matches, the things they are taking from it are players throwing themselves in front of the ball and making the big tackles."

A bit like Moscow, perhaps. Dunne speaks with the authority of having been there and worn the blood-stained T-shirt.

Richard Dunne was speaking at the launch of Airtricity's #PowerOfGreen campaign. Details at

Richard Dunne on...


"It doesn't feel like it's five years ago. It was actually my niece's debs the same night so she said I was trying to take the limelight off her! But it seems to have flown past. It's funny really looking back on it.

"Everything is remembered. You can't just do something and then it's done. It's highlighted or photographed and remembered, whether it's good or bad. So it's nice.

"I have enough things to remember that went wrong in the past, so it's nice once a year to have people saying, 'Oh well done on five or six years ago'. It's good."


"I though Serbia looked very erratic at times - their defending was terrible and their keeper was hopeless. Ireland scored and then didn't play for 65 minutes and could have been three or 4-1 down and then went 2-1 down and played great again. And they could have won the game then."


"They went years without qualifying. They were improving, they were getting results here and there but they weren't qualifying. All of a sudden they clicked, Bale and Ramsey came of age and turned into the players they are.

"It was like when Ireland played when Roy Keane was there. It was a different team. We had someone to focus on I suppose and Wales have two really top players, and when you look around teams in Europe, there are a lot of teams with one very good player. They have two very good ones and then a few more who are decent."

Irish Independent

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