Dunne looks to make his mark the Wembley way
Dubliner hopes to catch the eye while helping Millwall make it to another cup final
The last time Millwall faced Wigan at Wembley, Steven Reid and Richard Sadlier both featured but Alan Dunne was watching from the stands. The Dubliner was just excited to be there, though.
He was 17, still three years off his first team debut for the London side and, he must have hoped, getting a glimpse of the sort of thing the future might hold in store for him. Precisely the sort of thing as it happens.
Wigan won the Football League Trophy that day and, somewhat dutifully, Dunne told at least one newspaper this week that Millwall owe them one. It is the 30-year-old, you might argue however, who has had this afternoon coming. An FA Cup semi-final against a top-flight side in front of something approaching a full house at Wembley will be special for everyone involved with the English Championship side.
Dunne, though, comes across as living and breathing the club in a way that precious few pros do these days. But then he’s been there 20 years and gives every indication of wanting to stick around for at least as long again.
Dunne, in fact is the only survivor from the match day squad for the club’s last cup final appearance, in 2004. He was supposed to play in that one but then player-manager Dennis Wise declared himself fit, consoling the Irishman with the promise that he would only last an hour. In fact, he stayed on for 89, by which time Manchester United were three up and Wise passed the then midfielder over in order to hand Curtis Weston the honour of being the youngest ever player to feature in a FA Cup final.
“There wasn’t really much point in bringing me on at that stage,” observes Dunne, “but another lad got his chance and I have to respect that.”
This afternoon, he should be rather more central to current boss Kenny Jackett’s attempt to guide Millwall to another final. Dunne has been the club’s regular right back this season with his 24 games bringing his career appearances for the Londoners to around 300. He laughs when asked if he’s the longest-serving player. “There’s really not many of the same faces doing anything here from when I started.”
Dunne started with the club so early, in large part because his parents Paul and Elizabeth moved to London, via Crewe, for work reasons. “I lost the accent pretty quickly but I still call Dublin home and get back there as often as I can.
Relatives all over Ireland
“I lost my mum when I was 18 and that was very hard, but we (he has two brothers and two sisters) came through it and I’m blessed now to have a beautiful wife (Aimee) and kids (Lola, six and Shay, two).
Aimee’s family come from Clonmel. “I’ve relatives all over the country to be honest and a lot of them are coming for this, it’s another thing to look forward about it.”
Wigan, he acknowledges, “can beat anyone on their day, we seen that” but he adds: “If they have a poor day they’re beatable and they’re fighting for their lives in the Premier League, hopefully that will be there in the back of their minds.”
Millwall have league concerns of their own. The Championship being what it is, they are neither entirely safe from relegation themselves nor mathematically out of contention for the play-offs but a recent run of six games unbeaten (ended last weekend by Sheffield Wednesday) has left them lifted them to 16th and, it seems, heading them on course to do it all again next season.
And so, Dunne says, today’s game is a priority. “We want to enjoy it but as much as we want to do that we know we’re there to win the game, get to the final and hopefully get into Europe again which would be huge financially for a club like Millwall.”
A final would be the biggest game of his career and the Millwall in him would love it to be against Chelsea but there is a personal agenda there too. “I’ve had a good career at Millwall, played over 300 games and been to Wembley a few times. I’d like to finish playing with them, then coach at the club and, maybe someday, get the top job but that’s all a long way down the road.
“The only thing I haven’t done so far is have a national call up but I haven’t given up. I was close to getting in to the under-21s,” he recalls, “but I had a couple of injuries. Then, as I got older, it just never happened. But David Forde showed when he made his [COMPETITIVE)]debut at 33 that it’s still possible,” he says with enthusiasm.
“I’m only 30,” he points out. “I’m still young.”