Richard Dunne is an Irish hero. He was a rock at the heart of the Irish defence during the Giovanni Trapattoni era, a time when the team suffered perhaps its biggest lull in support since the game’s popularity exploded in Ireland after Italia ’90.
A stand-out performer. He was the last impenetrable line of an Irish defence that somehow managed to shut out a rampant Russian side in Moscow during the Euro 2012 qualifiers. Industrious, honest, determined and humble, Dunne is the living embodiment of our footballing psyche.
Speaking at an event to promote SSE Airtricity’s #PowerOfGreen campaign Dunne wasn’t letting himself get carried away with the optimism surrounding what he sees as an inflated sense of achievement around Ireland’s performances in France over the summer.
“I think everyone looks at the Euros with rose-tinted glasses, thinks it was brilliant and it was wonderful, and it wasn’t. It wasn’t that good. We did well.
“We got a good result against a second Italian team, really, and we were hammered by Belgium. We played really well against Sweden for a while, then we scored and sat back. In the France game, we scored and people got tired. We lost our shape and got run a bit ragged. There were periods in all games where we passed the ball nicely, and periods where we hit the ball long.”
Dunne does have a point. The naivety of the average fair-weather bandwagon intruder inevitably led to some exaggeration. However, the football community in Ireland saw great promise in the team during the summer and rightly so. Robbie Brady, Jeff Hendrick, James McCarthy and Wes Hoolahan combined to give us something the international team has arguably not seen since Mick McCarthy’s tenure, a midfield that can effectively breakdown opponents with sharp progressive passing.
Over the last ten years the main objective of most Irish central midfielders was to win the second ball after Shay Given or one of the back four punted it long. Trapattoni is most guilty of imposing this tactic, leading to Glenn Whelan becoming our midfield general and the inclusion of the likes of Paul Green. Dark days indeed. Now we have a small group of technically gifted midfielders coming to the fore in the team, so why not let them play?
Dunne feels that the perception of the team’s success in the summer has had a bearing on how Monday night’s draw against Serbia in Belgrade is being viewed.
“Because it was so positive and we got caught up in the whole thing, it was ‘a really good tournament’ and it was ‘a successful tournament’.
“But if you were to analyse the games individually and then look at the Serbia game, and if you add the atmosphere and the situation to the Serbia game, you’d say ‘Well, look, we got a draw against Serbia in a European tournament and we fought back, it’s great.”
Would we have taken a point before a ball was kicked? Absolutely. On the evidence of both teams’ performances on the night, could we have taken home three points? Of course.
Ireland put together one decent passing move, got a free kick and subsequently scored from it. We didn’t try to do it again until we were 2-1 down. The goal showed that we had nothing to fear and that the Serbian keeper was far from assured but we failed to capitalise. Instead we conceded so much ground and possession by insisting on hitting it long that an equaliser was inevitable.
Our new-found comfort on the ball in midfield couldn’t be displayed while the ball was sailing over the heads of Brady and co. It was back to the same old tactic.
For Dunne to say ‘It’s great we fought back’ is all well and good – and he’s right, from 2-1 down we did well to rescue a point – but what about the 1-0 lead we did little to protect or build on?
With a little more belief, a positive outlook and even a sprinkling of arrogance, this Ireland team is capable of turning a one-goal lead into a two-goal lead. On the evidence of the last decade, it’s a better game plan than trying to hold a narrow lead, something we’ve never managed to do effectively.
Dunne may well be the living embodiment of the Irish footballing psyche but maybe it’s time that psyche changed.
Stephen Vaughan, Pundit Arena