Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Richard Dunne - we hold no fear

Its an indicator of how far Ireland have come since the dreary days of late 2007 that Richard Dunne can talk with confidence about winning games of such consequence as those rapidly approaching against Bulgaria and Italy.

The blizzard of confetti surrounding the weekend just gone is still blowing in the wind but Dunne's belief is based on foundations built over the past year and not the wave of expectation building from a nation ready to embrace any kind of success with hysterical yearning.

The qualities on show in the Millennium Stadium, the O2 Arena and, hopefully, Croker on Saturday carry a particular resonance at a time when everything else is falling apart and a hard core of morally and financially bankrupt businessmen, developers and politicians fight like wolverines to hold what they have, no matter what the consequences.

Honesty of effort, integrity, togetherness, respect and dignity are the currency of sport once the whistle blows and the agents and fixers melt away.

Such qualities shine brightly when placed beside the dry rot of selfishness that has been exposed by the global meltdown and it is ironic that many of the pillars of society outed on a daily basis in the media as hollow men are the very lads that celebrate sport most and would shout loudest if they saw a cheat on a football pitch or a choker in the ring.

It is, of course, unfair to Brian O'Driscoll, Bernard or Richard Dunne to add any more weight to the load and let's face it, many Irish sportsmen and women fold completely when they're supposed to win. But it won't stop us doing it anyway.

Fortunately, Dunne is a man who has seen enough of the world to understand the need to keep a balance in his life and while he enjoyed events in Cardiff and the O2 like the rest of us -- he doesn't quite see the connection.

"They're totally different things. We want to win and make the country proud but if we lose on Saturday, we still have games left. As great as it was for everyone watching the rugby, it's a completely different scenario for us on Saturday," said Dunne, pulling everything down to a calmer level.

Which isn't to say that he's anything less than positive about the job at hand. In fact, it is rare to see Irish players so comfortable discussing the possibility of travelling to play a major power and even taking points.

This is the Trapattoni dividend on show. His senior players have grown under his guidance and now believe in themselves.

"We've had bigger weeks, like when we qualified, but in recent times this is as close a chance as we've had to qualifying. If we can beat Bulgaria and get them out of the way we can fight for top spot with Italy."

Dunne agrees there's been a huge turnaround from the last campaign.

"We lost games early in the last group and it set the tone. There was never really a chance of qualifying from the second or third game in. As the games went on, the group petered out. I think the quality has been in the squad and maybe, at times, it hasn't been selected.

"This time the manager has been picking as strong a squad as he possibly can and once we're all fit and free of suspension, I think we've as good a chance as we've had for a long time.

"We've got to go to Italy, Bulgaria and Cyprus and we've got tough games to go. But it would hit Bulgaria hard if they looked at the table and were 10 points behind us. Hopefully, it would put them out of it but never say never.

"It was the same last time we qualified -- we need to pick results up away and beat the big sides at home. We need to do that to give ourselves confidence and the fans confidence that maybe we have a side that can give them something to cheer about and give them hope of qualifying for the World Cup.

"This is the biggest game. This is the one we have to win. We have to make sure Bulgaria are 10 points behind us come Sunday morning. Then we can go to Italy with confidence. We believe, within our group, that we can go to Bari and take some points off Italy."

This is the new face of the Ireland senior team and Trapattoni takes great credit for it.

He has grafted a part of his own mentality onto any that needed it.

Dunne didn't need a whole lot. He has been, along with Shay Given, the most consistent of our Premier League players for the past five years and if his form dipped over the past six months, it was never a major cause for concern. Not for him either.

"I have had four, maybe five, really good seasons and I had a bad six months and suddenly everyone is saying you're finished.

"But I haven't changed anything. Over the last 10 games or so, I've been playing really well.

"I had a bad spell. Everyone seemed to have a bad spell at the same time. We've had a lot of young lads in the team who have never had a chance to take a break.

"They've been constantly playing football and that catches up with you when you have young lads in a team.

"We've had a big change in the whole club and I think it just unsettled everybody.

"But since the transfer window everything in the whole club seems to have gone quiet again and performances have picked up.

"Shay Given has done really well too and nobody is really surprised. He's a big loss for Newcastle and he's come in and carried on doing the exact same things for us.

"The way he walks around and gives confidence is important.

"Our defence has returned to form and we worked things out ourselves. We've been trying to build different relationships in training.

"As for the qualifiers, we've tried to prepare as normal, despite the fact we're facing the group's top seeds in our two toughest games."

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