By Seán Folan at Wembley
Richard Dunne has sent out a message to Martin O’Neill that he remains eager to play for Ireland after returning to the Premier League with a man-of-the-match performance in QPR’s 1-0 Championship play-off victory over Derby at Wembley.
Dunne elected to opt out of Ireland’s end of season friendlies, a four-game run that starts with today’s clash against Turkey at the Aviva.
However, after a stirring display for a 10-man QPR side that echoed his heroics at the heart of the Ireland defence in Moscow against Russia in 2011, Dunne told RTÉ Sport: “I’ll be available after the summer.
“I’d love to be included in September [when Ireland’s Euro 2016 qualifiers begin away to Georgia], I’d love to play again.
“We’ll just see how it goes over the summer and see what the manager decides.
“I spoke to Martin O’Neill before the Serbia friendly in March and we had a chat, so he knows the situation.”
“Forty nine games now I’ve played this season – it feels more like 100 at the moment" - Richard Dunne
Dunne has had a torrid time with injuries since togging out in the Ireland jersey in the ill-fated Euro 2012 finals, after which he missed the whole of the 2012/13 season in what proved to be his final year at Villa, before joining QPR last summer.
And at the end of a successful season with QPR, 34-year-old Dunne felt the friendlies were a few games too many.
“Basically I needed a rest,” he said. “Ireland play until 10 June and after a year out I’ve played 49 games, which personally I think is a good achievement, and another four games would be too much.”
The Dubliner admitted there were dark times during his 15 months on the sidelines, but he never considered hanging up his boots after 17 years as a professional.
He left Home Farm as a schoolboy and signed his first professional contract at Everton in 1997.
“I didn’t play from the end of the Euros in 2012 until the start of this season. It was a long time but I never thought at packing it in. I always had the belief I’d be back,” he said.
“I was constantly told by the physios at Villa that I’d be alright eventually, and it worked out.”
The 1-0 victory over Derby and regaining his and QPR’s place back at the top table in English football proved to be a fairytale ending for Dunne and his team-mates after the Hoops had gone down to 10-men when Gary O’Neill was red-carded on the hour with the Rams in the ascendancy.
But as the clock ran down, it was Derby skipper Richard Keogh, who has filled Dunne’s boots the centre of the Ireland defence, who mis-controlled in the goal area to let Bobby Zamora pounce and blast home the goal worth in an estimated £120million to the London club – probably the most valuable goal in football.
An elated and exhausted Dunne said: “Forty nine games now I’ve played this season – it feels more like 100 at the moment.
“The last 15 minutes we played to get into extra-time. It was a case of hanging in there and then Bobby pops up to score at the death, which was fantastic.”
As for next season, Dunne said he has no doubts he can do still a job in the Premier League for QPR and is excited at the prospect of playing once again on the big stage at the likes of Old Trafford and Anfield.
“I’m looking forward to it. I’ve definitely still got it in the legs,” he said. “Playing at the top grounds is something to look forward to. I’m sure the club will strengthen in the summer but everyone in the dressing-room wants to be part of it.
“Next season is where all the glory is and everyone wants to test themselves.”
As well as being roared on the thousands of QPR fans, Dunne said it was extra-special that six members of his family, including his parents and niece, had flown over from Dublin and he revealed that he’d gained extra inspiration from his children in the lead up to the decider.
Dunne recounted that at the team meeting on the eve of the big game, the club had arranged for the families of the players to send good luck messages: “I got a nice surprise; my kids [daughter Lila (8) and son Tayo (5)] sent a video good luck message. It put everything in perspective. It was nice, a really good touch.”