For some athletes one performance can sum up a career. For Dubliner Richard Dunne the night that best defines him came in Moscow, in September of 2011. The Republic of Ireland had travelled to play out a qualifying game for the 2012 European Championships. For many the result was a forgone conclusion. A win for Russia, and the end of Ireland’s qualification hopes. Apparently nobody told Richard Dunne.
Ireland had lost their previous group game against the Russians 3-2. After the game, having been presented with the man of the match award, Dunne gave a frank and honest assessment of Ireland’s performance as simply not good enough, admitting that they just couldn’t handle the Russians on the night. 2 second half goals gave Ireland some hope but it was too little too late and the general feeling was that the Irish wouldn’t fare much better in the second clash with the Russian side.
As the game kicked off Ireland were on the back foot immediately. Goalkeeper Shay Given was forced into some early saves and evidence suggested it would be a long night in Moscow for the Irish. Richard Dunne rose to the challenge of stopping the Russian onslaught. While the rest of the team, Given in particular, deserve credit for stifling the Russians it was Dunne who dominated. His stature seemed to grow as the game went on and the players around him responded to his performance.
Dunne was first to everything. Early on he deflected a cross back to his keeper. On 16 In the second half the Tallaght born defender was equally impassable. Shortly after the second period kicked off he slid in to block a penalty area shot from Kerzhakov. Ten minutes later he showed a turn of pace, intercepting the ball on the edge of the Irish area and charging forward into the Russian half. Several Russian players gave chase and he was unlucky not to get a free kick when he was bundled over. Did he complain? No. He was straight back on his feet and sprinting back towards his own area where he stretched to a perfectly timed challenge to prevent yet another Russian attack. minutes he intercepted a stray ball into the Irish box from Keith Andrews. In the 26th minute he executed a perfectly timed block tackle on Yuri Zhirkov at the edge of the Irish area. Perhaps his most impressive input came on the 32 minute mark when he somehow deflected an Igor Semshov effort off the line, coming seemingly from nowhere to deflect the ball away to Damien Duff who promptly cleared. Dunne had an answer for every Russian question. Scoreless at halftime predictions were still that Ireland could only hold on for so long before Zhirkov and company broke the deadlock. Once again Dunne ignored the script.
It was in the 70th minute that the event that would become most iconic began. Dunne dived into a mid air block to prevent Zhirkov getting in behind the Irish defense. The momentum of the challenge took him sprawling onto the running track around the pitch and his face made heavy contact with the track surface. Dunne was harshly booked for his efforts but had thwarted another of the opponent’s advances once again.
Ireland’s number 5 scratched his face during his collision with the ground and was required to change his jersey on account of it being blood stained. His replacement jersey had no number on the back and the referee insisted that this was remedied. Dunne was visibly eager to get back on the pitch and help the team so the coaching staff improvised, drawing his squad number on with a marker. A bloodied Dunne complete with makeshift jersey returned to the pitch for the last 20 minutes, a figure of inspiration. His bandaged face and markered jersey the perfect allegory for his willingness do whatever it takes to get the job done. He had inspired players around him to raise their games too. If the facial injury was hurting him he showed no sign of it. He continued to tidy up every loose ball, he was immense in the air, and his passing to the front line was precise. Yuri Zhirkov in particular must have nightmares about Richard Dunne’s unwillingness to relent in his defensive efforts. In the 84th minute he put his body on the line again to block yet another Russian drive. The final whistle finally came and Ireland had claimed a valuable point, largely due to Mr. Dunne’s defensive masterclass.
Dunne has spent the majority of his career playing at the top level in England for clubs such as Everton, Manchester City, Aston Villa, and QPR and has amassed 80 caps for the Republic of Ireland , including appearances in the 2012 European Championships. He is certainly no stranger to committed defensive performances but it was that night in Moscow that has immortalised him in the minds of Irish football fans. Fans have even granted him a new nickname ‘The Iron Curtain’, a much more impressive moniker than his previous one ‘The Honey Monster.’ The point gained from the point earned in Moscow helped to ensure that Ireland secured a playoff spot for Euro 2012, and that Dunne cemented a place in Irish football folklore.
Ireland have been blessed with some top class defenders over the years. One who is often lauded as our best ever is Paul McGrath. His performance against Italy at the 1994 World Cup has always been held up as one of the best ever individual performances in an Irish jersey as McGrath managed to keep superstar Roberto Baggio in his pocket for the game. In the wake of the Iron Curtain’s Moscow performance McGrath took to Twitter and summed up the immensity of Dunne’s defining moment, “Richard Dunne, congratulations. The best performance I have seen from any Irish centre half, and that includes myself…”
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BY - Finn Mongey
7 September 2015