Ireland had beaten Wales in the first ever soccer match played at Croke Park the day before but it was an ugly win and one that couldn’t erase the stain of the 5-2 defeat in Nicosia five months before or the hairy 2-1 escape from San Marino.
Ireland’s cricketers had shocked Pakistan in the World Cup a week before. Eddie O’Sullivan’s free-scoring rugby team had missed out on a Six Nations title on points difference the same day. Dunne was boxing’s golden boy.
Steve Staunton’s side could hardly have picked a worse time to be scraping the barrel. The disdain in Dublin’s docklands that night hurt everyone, not just those seated ringside. None felt it more than Dunne who will be the longest-serving of the Irish internationals at Euro 2012, but the defender believes the team has come full circle and finally earned respect.
“Yeah I think so. I can understand it from the other side of view when the team is not doing well,’’ Dunne said.
“Why should they be congratulating us? We are always giving 100% when we go out but this is a major thing for Irish football, us qualifying.
“It will hopefully start a new generation of players and kids coming through and going out into the streets and playing football, or in all the fields around Tallaght or wherever it may be. We have earned some level of respect and support and it’s up to us now to build on that.”
None have done more than the Aston Villa man to turn the tide of public opinion — his colossal performance in Moscow will always stand out as the defining piece in the jigsaw that took Ireland to Poland after 10 years of hurt.
That commitment to the cause will continue this week, one nominally spent on holidays with his family, where he will adhere to a fitness programme put together by Adrian Lamb, the Aston Villa physio who has nursed him back to full health following his recent injury.
Dunne was even willing to risk the wrath of the missus last week as he contemplated bringing Lamb along for the break in the sun but the bulk of the road to recovery was completed in the club game’s final weeks.
His return didn’t exactly result in an upswing in the fortunes of Aston Villa, who relieved Alex McLeish of his post yesterday, but at least the shoulder has stood up to almost five hours of Premier League punishment.
General fitness levels will be honed further with the friendlies to come against Bosnia, an Italian scratch side and Hungary which should have him primed for Ireland’s opening Group C fixture against Slaven Bilic’s Croatians on June 10.
Dunne and Bilic spent three years together at Goodison Park and he has fond memories of a player who was famously relaxed and offbeat and for whom success with Croatia has secured him the gig at Lokomotiv Moscow as of next season.
The former defender has already admitted three points against Ireland are key but Dunne has set a similar target.
“Definitely, you want to get off to a good start in the group,’’ he said.
“It’s usual that a win and a draw might be enough so if we can start off with a win then hopefully we can get another point or even a win along the way.
“It’ll be the same for Croatia who probably, on paper, will say that Spain and Italy are the harder games so they’ll want to start by beating us.
“We know how good they all are but Croatia are the team that are first up and they’re the team that we want to beat to start with.”