Saturday, October 11, 2008

Dunne determined to avoid another Cyprus disaster

"After Cyprus, that campaign was never about the football."

Two years after the worst night in recent Irish soccer memory, Richard Dunne believes Ireland have a manager to cope with any adversity

It was the night when the foundations of the Staunton regime crumbled before the cement had even begun to set. Cyprus, bloody Cyprus.

Richard Dunne answered hundreds of questions on the issue of the small Mediterranean nation this week, struggling to find new perspectives on the 90 minutes that Irish football wishes to forget.

You should know what happened, so expanding on the basic details is unnecessary. The 5-2 defeat in Nicosia on that miserable night in October two years ago has loomed like a shadow over this generation of Irish players. Never more than a question away.


After that humiliation, the Euro 2008 campaign was doomed to failure. Dunne concedes that it set off a chain of misery which ruined his enjoyment of international football, and he wasn't alone in that sentiment.

He has sympathy for Steve Staunton, who was brought in believing he would implement a four-year plan, but was goosed after two competitive games. The final blow to his tenure was struck when Cyprus swaggered into Croke Park 12 months later and deserved to win only for Steve Finnan's injury-time equaliser. By then, the jury had already voted unanimously for change.

It brought to an end a tumultuous period in our football history, the kind of year which the Manchester City defender never wants to experience again. He does not wish to criticise Staunton, but reckons that Giovanni Trapattoni's method of leadership is capable of keeping the blues away and handling adversity in a more constructive fashion.

The press fall-out from Cyprus Part I was vicious. And the response from management and players was to adopt a siege mentality. The problem, according to Dunne, is that the issue escalated beyond that and began to dominate everything. All sides were implicated, and the powers-that-be in the Irish camp were guilty of getting caught up in the recriminations and paranoia emanating from the drawn-out post-mortem.

Ill feeling and never-ending tension became the story. Football? It was the reason they were all there, but not the focus. With sour faces all around, the environment was an unsettling one.

"The confidence was damaged," reflects Dunne, speaking in his latest promotion of EA Sports' FIFA 09 computer game. "There was just a whole negative thing every time we came over.

"Right, there was football on one side, but there were always different stories everywhere about different things, that somebody's not happy with somebody and somebody doesn't like him. They were all side stories, but they ended up becoming the talk of the training ground.

"It wasn't a case of just concentrate on the match because there always seemed to be something going on somewhere.

"This time, you come over and the manager has no interest in what anyone writes about him. There's no worry around the place.

"There's nobody saying 'oh, a reporter said this about you.' The manager doesn't care, and the players have no reason to care. You know what I mean?

"It's just play football, do our interviews, do everything and whatever is written then it doesn't matter. The players have no need to worry because the manager's not thinking 'we have to win this game because of what the press wrote'.

"He's told us that. He says to us that if we get a five-out-of-10 or a 10-out-of-10 in the papers it doesn't matter because in two weeks' time people will look at the result and they won't care.

"So if you win one-nil and you have a shit game then who gives a f**k, we've won the game so nobody is interested in the paper afterwards. Everyone has bad games, but we're all just trying to win so that's it. There's no point worrying about the other stuff."

That relaxed nature comes from the top down and, in that respect, Dunne has warmed to Trapattoni. With his experience, no job is too big for him although the counterpoint to the good vibes is that he's enjoyed a relatively easy ride so far.

A defeat will test his disposition, but Dunne has noted the manner in which he is nonplussed by outside influences.

"There's him, his coaching staff and the team and you can tell that nothing else really matters to him," explains the centre-half. "If people want to slag him off or anything then so be it, but he'll do the job his way. He doesn't have time for anybody who won't go along with him.

"He walks around the place and looks confident, he walks around with a strut and I think it rubs off on the players. We like him because everyone trusts him and realises that he knows what he's on about."

As Ireland prepare to take on Cyprus for the fourth successive October, the presence of a manager in the dugout with no demons related to the opposition can only be a good thing, according to the Tallaght man.

The previous games have claimed casualties in addition to Staunton, Devlin, McDonald et al. Paddy Kenny, Andy O'Brien and Clinton Morrison effectively ceased to become Irish internationals after the infamous drubbing.

They were expendable, but the marquee names struggled that night. It's worth remembering that the other eight members of the starting XI were Finnan, O'Shea, Dunne, Kilbane, Ireland, McGeady, Duff and Keane. Young in places, but still a respectable delegation.

Like the rest of the back four, Dunne endured a torrid night and eventually received a red card but he is not scarred by it and believes it would be counterproductive for anyone to speak in such terms with next Wednesday on the horizon.

"It's two years ago and we're still being asked about that game," he says. "It's not any clearer now, there are no new answers or revelations or anything like that. We got hammered, that's still what happened so we can't change it.

"There's no point in sitting back and thinking, 'awh, that was a really bad night, I hope that doesn't happen' and worrying. We have just got to hope that it's a new game, a new manager, and a new campaign. I don't think we should be fearful of it.

"Because when the fixture comes around and everyone starts saying what a bad day that was -- and last year as well -- then negative thoughts are going through everyone's head. Whereas for them it's all positive.

"They come into the game knowing they hammered us before and got a good result the last time. They'll be confident.

"Their manager is already saying they expect to win it so we've just got to forget about what's gone on in the past and make sure we're as confident as them because I believe our squad is a lot better than theirs and our team should be capable of beating them."

It is the confident talk which supporters want to hear but there is a certain irony about the prevailing mood ahead of the next instalment of the Cypriot saga.


The thrashing in Nicosia reverberated so much because the general feeling was that they were opposition that should be brushed aside.

Staunton did have a point. Cyprus were an improving side and continue to bear out that theory, yet they're still nowhere near as accomplished as Ireland allowed them to look in the aborted attempt at making it to Austria and Switzerland.

Putting that right next Wednesday is the only way the longest post-mortem in history can finally be brought to a close.

Looking forward rather than backwards is the key.

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