Derby’s Richard Keogh was slumped to the floor with tears streaming down his face after his error gifted Bobby Zamora the last minute winner and cost his club around €150m.
But on the other side of the Championship play-off final pitch, you could not wipe the smile off Richard Dunne as the Queens Park Rangers man rolled back the years with the kind of display that has won him 80 caps for his country. Dunne was magnificent to repel a Derby side who could not break down ten-man Rangers, who seemed fatally hindered by the 60th minute sending-off of Gary O’Neil, and now he is ready for another shot at the Premier League after a lengthy career there previously with Everton, Manchester City and Aston Villa. Who could believe that he missed the whole of last term with Villa due to a groin injury? While he is missing the national side’s programme of international friendlies this summer, the 34-year-old is prepared to make himself available to Martin O’Neill for the game in Georgia in September.
“I spoke to Martin before the game in March so he knows the situation,” said Dunne. “Basically I need a rest. To play 49 games after a year out is a good achievement.
“It does not feel like 49 games, it feels like 100!! I’d love to play again in September but we will see how the summer goes.”
Such was the uncertainty surrounding Dunne at the start of the campaign he only signed a pay as you play deal.
“With my injury I could have been finished in six weeks,” he revealed. “I felt once I got fit again I would be alright. Thankfully, I’ve played 49 games this season including internationals so it’s held out quite well.
“I didn’t play from the end of the Euros till the start of the next season. It was a long time. But I never felt like packing it in. The physios really helped me.
“I’m looking forward to playing in the Premier League. I’ve played 49 games this season so 38 will be a doddle!
“It’s something to look forward to. I know the club want to strengthen but everyone wants to be a part of it.
“The games are bigger and better every week so there is more focus. There is some games in the Championship where you can lose concentration.
“It’s a long league and very hard. Next season is where the glory is, everyone gets excited to go to the big games and big grounds. We want to have a nice rest now and go back to it.”
Derby should have won Saturday’s match comfortably but it was Dunne’s form at the back and Rob Green’s excellent display in goal that kept them out after O’Neil’s dismissal for bringing down Johnny Russell as last man.
Rams captain Keogh, who has three Republic of Ireland caps, inexplicably passed straight to sub Zamora from Junior Hoilett’s tame cross to settle the game in cruel fashion after Jake Buxton had also made an error in the move. Keogh was too distraught to talk afterwards but head coach Steve McClaren looked back on a season that saw his side finish an unlikely third place in the Championship and called on them to bounce back.
“Keogh and Buxton have been the real rock and they will blame themselves a lot,” he said.
“Maybe we weren’t ready for the Premier League and deserved a lesson. We need to keep the players we have, a lot are under contract at least.”
DERBY (4-3-3): Grant 6; Wisdom 6, Keogh 5, Buxton 5, Forsyth 6; Hendrick 7, Thorne 7, Hughes 7 (Bryson (68) 7); Russell 7 (Dawkins (67) 6), Martin 6, Ward 7 (Bamford (90).
QPR (4-4-2): Green 8; Simpson 6, Onuoha 7, Dunne 8, Hill 6 (Henry (67) 6); Hoilett 7, Barton 7, O’Neil 4, Kranjcar 5 (Traore (33) 6); Doyle 5 (Zamora (57) 7), Austin 6.
Referee: Lee Mason 7.