Dunne given new lease of life at Aston Villa
Richard Dunne may be about to celebrate a most dangerous birthday — he will be 30 at the end of this month — but when he shook hands with Martin O'Neill earlier this week, he was entitled to feel more than a little of the exhilaration that came to him as a 17-year-old swapping the hard streets of Tallaght for a run at football's fast lane with Everton.
There is, after all no sweeter match in the game than when an ageing, embattled pro meets up again with new possibilities.
For Dunne, one of the major casualties of Manchester City's attempt to buy a ready-made title-contending team, there was also an additional reason to hum a bar or two of Bob Marley's Redemption song when his £6m move to Aston Villa was completed. He could reflect that it was at Villa Park were arguably his greatest predecessor in the Irish team, Paul McGrath, founded the richest vein of his career after also suffering rejection in the great football metropolis of Manchester.
Alex Ferguson, the re-maker of Manchester United, noted the superior skills of McGrath when he arrived from Scotland, but also the bad knees and the bad habits. McGrath was seen as part of a debilitating drink culture at Old Trafford when Ferguson decided he would draw fresh horizons.
When Mark Hughes was given fabulous means to do the same job for City last season, Dunne's good qualities were also noted, but he was still cast into the role of a man from the past.
Now Dunne follows McGrath on redemption road and, heaven knows, it is not an unfamiliar path.
Six years ago under Kevin Keegan at City, Dunne's place in the top flight was also endangered. The club had been relegated. He was too heavy and his discipline was too light. Result: suspension and a major question mark against his future. Dunne, like McGrath before him, faced some career-shaping decisions.
His response was to work harder than he had done before. The promise he had shown as a product of the Home Farm breeding ground of serious footballers, could no longer be allowed to drift. It was the time to make a stand — or disappear.
Excess pounds were removed along with the shadows, but in football, it is work that is never done, not until you walk away from your last club. And now, under the hard-driving O'Neill and the knowing Irish team coach Giovanni Trapattoni, Dunne has another chance of re-instating himself as a significant performer at club and international level.
Dunne expressed delight at the move, as well he might when he considers the alternative — a slow anti-climactic ride into the margins of big-time football under the shadows of new City signings Kolo Toure and Joleon Lescott.
“I believe I have a lot of football left in me at the highest level,” says Dunne, “and it is a great opportunity for me to prove this at Villa.
“This is obviously a team going somewhere. They have improved every year and I believe they can fight their way into Champions League football. It is a great break for me that I can be part of this, that I can go further than ever before in club football.”