Cult Heroes: Richard Dunne

By Steve McGrath, Thu 21 January 2016 15:54

Cult Heroes: Richard DunneSteve McGrath looks back at the Irish international's career

Following the recent entertaining list of FA Cup cult heroes from Betway, in line with the earlier third round ties during the illustrious knockout competition this year, a can of worms has been opened as we look at further fan favourites from clubs and national sides. Betway included some known players but equally unknown others, any fan of Ireland or Man City will have great memories of the following cult hero.

This time around it's the turn of international players and, specifically, a true Republic of Ireland cult hero in the towering form of now-retired centre back Richard Dunne.

After 14 years of donning the famous green of his nation, across 80 international caps, the stalwart defender brought the curtain down on his long-standing Ireland career in 2013, subsequently causing a sadness among those who passionately followed his defensive craftsmanship.

A final farewell for this dedicated defensive giant to the Irish faithful was an oddly fitting clash against minnows Kazakhstan at a sparsely populated Lansdowne Road, before a move to Dublin's Aviva Stadium, under the temporary managerial guidance of interim coach Noel King.

Dunne was the definition of a no-nonsense type of player, although his gangly demeanour and approach meant that many opponents underestimated him as a footballer, both internationally and in the Premier League, but at their peril!

Such heroic displays in green, constantly putting his body on the line for his country's cause, made Dunne a true hero among the Irish supporters, being part of the squads which competed at the 2002 World Cup and then Euro 2012 a decade later, with both tournaments having ended substantially different.

Although, club performances in both the Championship and Premier League for Everton, Manchester City, Aston Villa and QPR also added to his alluring aura and cult hero status, still holding the joint top-flight record for most times sent off alongside Patrick Vieira and Duncan Ferguson. He also holds the possibly unwanted record of most own goals scored, but this was only a unfortunate consequence of his battle-hardened, last-ditch defending.

Dublin-born stalwart Dunne spent nine consistent years with Man City, helping oversee their rise from second tier challengers to a competitive, vastly wealthy top-flight club, with his dominant displays inspiring many around him.

Speaking during his time with the Sky Blues, now Aston Villa defender Micah Richards declared: "Ever since I’ve come to this club Richard has just been quality. I play with him week in, week out and I think he’s one of the best players I’ve played with. I’ve played with John Terry and Rio Ferdinand in the England squad but Richard is right up there with them."

High praise indeed for this Tallaght lad whose first club before arriving with Everton's youth team was a local Dublin outfit named Home Farm. Dunne's four seasons with the Villans also added to his appeal, with notable contributions during his West Midlands ventures including helping reach a League Cup final and being fined for a drunken confrontation with then teammate James Collins during a supposed team-bonding exercise.

Upon leaving Villa for QPR, it was a testament to his unwavering character, resilience and determination to come back from a potentially career-ending injury to reinvent himself as a defensive lynchpin in the Championship club's eventual promotion, showing no signs of tempering his commitment which saw him already hailed as a national treasure.

In 2002, on the eve of Ireland's World Cup campaign in South Korea, Dunne reached arguably his lowest career incident, after being sent home from Man City training because of turning up in a “dishevelled” state. The Dubliner could easily have fallen into that category of footballing 'could have beens', but his unrelenting drive and positive outlook saw him ultimately carve out an impressive career nevertheless.

In 2008, during City's steady domestic rise, the club's chief executive Gary Cook made embarrassing and dubious comments regarding the admirable Irishman, claiming: "China and India are gagging for football content to watch and we’re going to tell them that City is their content. We need a superstar to get through that door. Richard Dunne doesn’t roll off the tongue in Beijing."

In the eyes of Ireland fans everywhere, Dunne was indeed that superstar. Such worshippers of the gospel according to Dunne will regard the retired cult hero's aggressive and imposing international performances as crucial in helping build-up to the current crop of Emerald Isle stars which have rightfully reached Euro 2016.

Although, for every lover of hard-tackling, old fashioned centre halves, there will be those who question the Dubliner's all-around abilities, but what is there to doubt? Dunne was actually an astute defensive figurehead for Ireland under former coach Giovanni Trapattoni, able to play the ball out at his feet as well as thwarting opposition attacks.

It's worth noting that during Barcelona's beautiful Spanish and European reign at the height of their 'tiki tika' approach, as well as the grace and fluidity of Lionel Messi and co, Carlos Puyol provided the intensity and physicality needed for success. It's in this stature of player that Dunne also falls into.

There's no better supreme performance that properly highlights Dunne's importance to Ireland and cemented his legacy as a true cult hero among his country's passionate following than the dominant outing against Russia.

It may not have held the importance that Irish icon Paul McGrath's sublime individual defensive showing against Italy in the 1994 World Cup, but Dunne's all-conquering Russian display saw his status rocket in his home nation.

The gallant centre back put on a masterclass of last-ditch defending with an endless streak of towering clearances, blatantly brilliant body checks and all-round sound guarding of Shay Given's goal.

In perhaps his best ever performance in an Ireland shirt, Dunne halted wave after wave of Russian attacks, eventually winning man of the match for his superior display in which he single-handedly stopped a side that were completely dominating in midfield and created a constant flow of forward threats.

Former Ireland international McGrath was so much in awe of what he had just witnessed, during the 0-0 Russia stalemate ground out by Dunne's defensive genius, he hailed the heroics as the best performance ever by an Irish defender, even ahead of his own against the Azzurri in 1994 on American soil.

July 31st, 2013 was a truly sad day for Irish football as cult hero Dunne ended a long-standing international career, but his incredible defensive stewardship will live long in the memory of every fan from the Emerald Isle.