Irish are prepared to give blood again to check Croatia
Richard Dunne says his team retain the spirit they showed in qualifying
Sunday 10 June 2012
It has become the defining sight of Ireland's Euro 2012 campaign: blood streaming down Richard Dunne's face, a number five crudely drawn on his replacement jersey... but the defender unaffected, unbowed, unbeaten. Within moments, he was making another clearing header, another key tackle against a Russian.
In truth, it encapsulated the Giovanni Trapattoni era. The end justifying the means; not pretty but definitely productive.
And, appropriately enough, it ended up as the campaign's deciding moment too. On the same September night that Slovakia surprisingly lost 4-0 to Armenia to cede second place, such defiance somehow brought Ireland a 0-0 draw away to an otherwise rampant Russia to all but secure a play-off.
It should be a cherished memory. The man most responsible for it, though, can barely remember a thing. And not because he smashed his head off the artificial turf late on.
"The whole game is a blur," Dunne admitted on Friday. "I remember little bits and pieces from it. It was 100 miles an hour, defensively. I couldn't think about any one thing because, straight away, there was something else happening. We were on the back foot for most of the match so it's not that the bang knocked me out."
Such defiance did not just mark a signature career performance for Dunne, but one of the greatest individual displays in Irish history. It has already been put alongside Paul McGrath against Italy in USA '94 and Roy Keane against Portugal in 2001. As a disarmingly down-to-earth footballer, though, Dunne can't really see the fuss.
"It's strange because I cleared one off the line but everyone did the same the things. I appreciate that but it's in the past."
Talk of transcendent performances and comparisons with McGrath may, of course, rankle with some at Aston Villa, where Dunne hasn't exactly been at his best for the past two seasons. And he admits himself that some performances "weren't good enough".
But that simply hasn't been the case for Ireland over the last four years, in which time Dunne has been the single indispensable member of the squad. The team's entire system is essentially based on his assurance in the centre.
If Dunne is reluctant to make much of his displays, however, he wants to make the most of this campaign. Maybe even remember some of the details.
The defender, after all, is one of only four current squad members to have also gone to the 2002 World Cup – along with Shay Given, Robbie Keane and Damien Duff. But he was the only one of those four not to have played.
"As excited as I was then, it's the same now, you know. At the time you think you're going to play but that never happened. Hopefully now I can, and play my part in my country doing well. To have taken so long is the hard part but we're here now and we'll enjoy it as a team and individually cherish every minute of it."
If Ireland are to properly appreciate it, though, it's just as well that Moscow provided preparation, given the quality of the sides coming up. Not least Croatia tonight.
"We're probably going to have the same battles over the next week. Every game has to be the same, the same performance and the same battles from the whole lot of us."
Ultimately, how does all that balance out? Does the system mean the players accept they will be under pressure? Does that also mean they'll accept a draw tonight?
"The aim is to go and win it. We think, like we did when we went to Russia, that we're going to have as much of the ball as them or that we could control the game. As games pan out, it might not be that way. We're not going there thinking we should sit back and defend. We feel we can create chances.
"If they [Croatia] come and attack us, that might work into our hands. I don't think we're going to change an awful lot from what we've been like the last few years. As long as we do our own things, we know we can compete in most games.
"We fancy our chances against anyone... we honestly feel we can do as well as anyone else."
Does that, then, mean actually winning Euro 2012?
"Greece and Denmark did. Anyone can win the tournament because it's wide open. Spain are probably miles better than anyone but why would we even think about playing them without believing we can beat them?"
Clearly, the squad is well primed. And you certainly get that sense talking to Dunne.
"We've geared up for it for so long, everyone wants to get stuck in and get going. When it's our turn, we'll be ready to go."
And, as Dunne has proved, ready to shed blood.
Trapattoni: I would never make the same mistakes as Capello
Four years after both took jobs on these islands and two years after the South Africa World Cup, Giovanni Trapattoni has finally emulated Fabio Capello by taking his adopted country to a major tournament. He will not, however, be looking to repeat the former England manager's mistakes.
Trapattoni said on Friday that in his last week with the FA, Capello had made a "grave mistake" with the interview that effectively cost him his job.
"The first thing you need to do is not make a mistake like going on Italian TV and giving an interview there," said the Republic of Ireland manager. "I get calls all the time from Italian friends and reporters but I don't give them information because I have respect for Irish reporters. But if I went to Italy and said this or this or this then that is a grave mistake."
A key difference between the two Italians is that – on the eve of Ireland's first finals match in 10 years – Trapattoni was clearly enjoying himself.
"My job is fun," he said. "What other job pays like this for two hours a day? Every other job you work for five or six or eight hours. I am not particularly tense at all."
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