Carling Cup final: Richard Dunne in search of just reward with Aston Villa
It radiates around the house, a beacon to the career of Richard Dunne. We are talking about the 1996 FA Youth Cup medal that he won at Everton, the only pot of note in a long career. Yes, you might say a winner's medal today is important to Dunne, as indeed it is to Aston Villa. The rich texture of Dunne's Dublin brogue is corrupted by the odd Manc inflection, testament to the miles clocked up in the service of Manchester City. Good enough for the blue shirt in the yo-yo years when City oscillated between Premier League and First Division, Dunne was dumped by Mark Hughes with the haste of a lottery winner on the pull when Joleon Lescott made eyes at Eastlands. Dunne deserved better, and is getting it at Villa Park with a team of more modest disposition yet no less ambitious. Aston Villa Transfer TalkHe has in Martin O'Neill a manger who wants and appreciates him. The love-in is mutual. "He manages players very well. If you do your job, he looks after you. If you need a couple of days off, he gives it to you. You feel like you are being listened to. He respects you and treats you accordingly," Dunne said. Dunne is arguably the find of the season, a measured influence at the heart of the meanest defence in the Premier League. One way or another he has been up against Manchester United most of his career. If this is to be a first major trophy, there could be no better nose to bloody. "At City we had a few successes against them, winning with Sven at Old Trafford [in February 2008] was a great moment. For us it was always about staying in the Premier League. They had grown into this massive world force winning everything. Whenever you play against them it is the biggest game of the season; the champions are coming to town." Dunne would be emulating another Mancunian refugee in arriving at Villa Park a discard only to convert opportunity against United in a League Cup Final. Dunne's impact, if not his habits, approximate to that of Paul McGrath, among the great centre-backs to have represented United. McGrath was operating on one leg before he left Old Trafford yet managed to contribute substantially during his Indian summer in Birmingham. Dunne has none of McGrath's biomechanical flaws or his mental frailties. His wholehearted commitment sits well with O'Neill's pared down idea of what a central-half should be; first to the ball and assured in the tackle. "He has been just fantastic for us," O'Neill said. "He has been a great, great Premiership player for a long time, but even he would want to sit back when he's about 40 and say I won that, won this. Two or three medals helps immensely. I think Richard would give up a few things to win those medals. There have been great players who have not won medals. They would all say the same. It would be lovely for him." Dunne could do with a break. The hand of Henry that denied Ireland a place at this year's World Cup was as undeserved as the slap in the face by Hughes. He is over both. The Villa experience has become a genuine and unexpected opportunity in its own right. Dunne echoes O'Neill's belief that the Carling Cup would be a tangible sign of Villa's progress, a catalyst perhaps to reaching the high ground of the Champions League. "I believe we are going to win," Dunne said. "We are full of confidence and a match for any team on our day."
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