Obituary: Pat Dunne – goalkeeper who found fame with Manchester United

Pat Dunne: February 9th, 1943 – September 25th, 2015

Pat Dunne: the Manchester United goalkeeper screams in frustration after letting in a Tottenham Hotspur goal during a match in October 1965.   Photograph: Central Press/Getty Images

Pat Dunne: the Manchester United goalkeeper screams in frustration after letting in a Tottenham Hotspur goal during a match in October 1965. Photograph: Central Press/Getty Images

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Pat Dunne who has died aged 72, will have a place in the history of Manchester United FC as the man who proved that early rejection need not necessarily spell the end of boyhood dreams.

As a teenager, he went to the club on trial in the hope of establishing himself as understudy to Northern Ireland goalkeeper Harry Gregg.

His brief stay was to end unhappily, however, with the assessment that he wasn’t quite tall enough to develop into a top class keeper.

A similar fate awaited him at Everton but undaunted by an accident which left him with one arm shorter than the other, he recovered to find fulfilment in the exceptionally talented squad which Sean Thomas assembled at Shamrock Rovers. Five of the six trophies on offer in the League of Ireland in the 1963/64 season, were claimed by Rovers and the achievement did not go unnoticed on the other side of the Irish Sea.

Suitably impressed by Dunne’s growing reputation, Sir Matt Busby, the celebrated Manchester United manager, had no difficulty in revising his earlier judgment, handing over a five-figure cheque for somebody they could have signed at no cost four years earlier.

Dunne played in all 22 championship games as United edged their arch rivals, Leeds United, to win the title for the first time in eight years. The popular perception may have been that the club’s success stemmed principally from the diverse skills of Bobby Charlton, Denis Law and the emerging George Best, but Busby paid tribute to the input of their less glamorous colleagues.

Irish contingent

“To win a championship, it is essential to build from the back and in addition to Bill Foulkes, we were fortunate to be able to call on the four Irish boys, Pat Dunne, Shay Brennan, Tony Dunne and, of course, the team captain, Noel Cantwell. No less than the players making the headlines in front of them, they were deserving of the highest praise” he was to say on his retirement from management some years later.

Within weeks of that landmark achievement, the Irish quartet had embarked on an even more demanding challenge – to help the national team qualify for the finals of the World Cup in England in 1966. The qualifying process condensed into a two-legged tie against the reigning European champions, Spain, and in the first leg, at Dalymount Park, Dunne kept a clean sheet while Cantwell took his place in sporting folklore with the only goal of the game.

With Spain winning the return game in Seville, a play-off became necessary and it sparked a protracted diplomatic row as to where it should be staged. Having been tipped off by a FIFA insider that the parent body was making ready to impose Paris, the Spaniards’ preferred choice as a supposedly neutral venue, the FAI accepted the ruling on condition that they be allowed to retain the entire match receipts.

Spain were to win that match and qualify for the finals but a £7,448 windfall for the cash-strapped Irish football association helped cushion the disappointment.

Pat Dunne had acquitted himself well in a remarkable three-part drama but in spite of the impressive start to his English club career, he soon fell out of favour at Manchester United and following the signing of Alec Stepney, was transferred in February 1967 to Plymouth Argyle where the emphasis was more on avoiding relegation than winning trophies.

He returned home to rejoin Shamrock Rovers in November 1970 and subsequently went into management, overseeing the development of some fine young players in spells with Thurles Town and Shelbourne. He is survived by his widow, Bernie, and sons Derrick and Greg.

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