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'You may never play for that f******** team again'

Busby's warning to Tony Dunne who could have had 100 caps in a frustrating Irish career

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DEVILS’ DECLINE: Manchester United’s George Best is helped off the field by
teammates (r) Bobby Charlton and (l) Tony Dunne against Chelsea at Stamford
Bridge in August 1971. Photo: Getty Images

DEVILS’ DECLINE: Manchester United’s George Best is helped off the field by teammates (r) Bobby Charlton and (l) Tony Dunne against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in August 1971. Photo: Getty Images

Getty Images

DEVILS’ DECLINE: Manchester United’s George Best is helped off the field by teammates (r) Bobby Charlton and (l) Tony Dunne against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in August 1971. Photo: Getty Images

The greatest moments, and some of them were truly great, came in the red shirt of his club and not the green one of his national team.

Tony Dunne, who passed away on Monday at his home near Manchester at the age of 78, achieved something which will live forever, the first Dubliner to win the European Cup (with Manchester United in 1968) and one of only of 10 players from the Republic to have won that trophy.

Just seven players made more first-team appearances for United and Bobby Charlton reckoned the man from Drimnagh was "the quickest defender I ever saw... the best left back in Europe for years".

His time at United ended badly, in acrimony, as Dunne was one of a number of legendary players forced out by a new manager in 1973, Dunne's 13 years of service soured by penny-pinching and small-mindedness. A feeling Roy Keane would experience two decades later.

In later years Dunne would have to sell most of his memorabilia, including his European Cup medal.

At least he got to scale those heights of medals (six major trophies at United) and glory.

But, in a story which pretty much sums up the era when he played, Dunne experienced frustration and disappointment when playing for his country.

Having won the European Cup in 1968, Dunne's Ireland side finished bottom of their qualifying groups for the next two tournaments. Not easy, being in green.

He was one of four Irish players from United's league-winning team of 1965 who had real hopes of qualifying for the 1966 World Cup finals, only to be denied not just by Spanish opponents but catastrophic decision-making by an amateur FAI.

In between his debut, at Dalymount Park, in 1962 and his final international appearance in 1975, the Republic of Ireland played 65 internationals but Dunne played in just 33 of them and was on the losing side more often (18 times) than the winning one (11).

Getting picked by the Irish selectors was not the problem: getting released by Matt Busby was. "I should have had at least 100 caps," Dunne told author Chris Moore in 'United Irishmen'.

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LAST GAME: Republic of Ireland players Paddy Mulligan, left, Don Givens, who
scored all four goals in the game, and Tony Dunne, right, ahead of the Euro 1976
qualifier between Ireland and Turkey at Dalymount Park in October 1975. Photo: Connolly Colle

LAST GAME: Republic of Ireland players Paddy Mulligan, left, Don Givens, who scored all four goals in the game, and Tony Dunne, right, ahead of the Euro 1976 qualifier between Ireland and Turkey at Dalymount Park in October 1975. Photo: Connolly Colle

SPORTSFILE

LAST GAME: Republic of Ireland players Paddy Mulligan, left, Don Givens, who scored all four goals in the game, and Tony Dunne, right, ahead of the Euro 1976 qualifier between Ireland and Turkey at Dalymount Park in October 1975. Photo: Connolly Colle

Dunne recalls one incident where he went to fly back to Dublin after a league game away to Arsenal only to find Busby and his intransigence in the way.

"Shay Brennan, Noel Cantwell and me were going to the Republic and we'd booked the plane. I've got my gear and I'm running out after the game and just as I came out, Matt Busby is standing right at the door, blocking my exit. Cool as you like, he informs me that the taxi had gone. He just said that Noel and Shay had left."

Dunne did also explain that Busby's desire to block him from going away on Ireland duty was not due to the manager's disdain for international football but the lack of professionalism at the FAI then.

He tells a story of an international in Spain (six of his 33 caps came against the Spanish) where Dunne had asked the Ireland kitman to replace his long studs with short ones to allow for a dry pitch.

"When I get on the pitch I can feel the nails in them and I was pulling my toes back to avoid the pain. When I came off at half time my feet were bleeding. So the boots came off," Dunne recalled. "I discovered what he'd done, he'd cut the f****** studs in half, he didn't have any short studs."

When Dunne returned to United he tried to hide the physical damage from Busby ahead of an important league game but the manager was furious. "You play tomorrow because I need you but you may never play for that f****** team again," Busby told Dunne.

He played in seven qualifying campaigns with Ireland but the one that hurt most, and had the highest cost, was for the 1966 World Cup.

After games home and away to a Spanish side who were reigning European champions, a place at the World Cup finals went down to a playoff, at a neutral venue.

The FAI wanted Wembley, the Spanish suggested Paris. The short-sighted penny pinchers in the FAI were tempted by Spain's offer to pay the travel costs for the Irish party, so hosting rights went to Paris, where 30,000 Spanish fans cheered on a win.

After that, it was grim in the green shirt. The European Cup medal on his mantelpiece meant little as Dunne watched his Ireland team lose, again and again as Liam Tuohy tried manfully to improve things with little reward.

From March 1965 to May 1974, a period when he won two league titles and the European Cup with United, Dunne would enjoy just one win with Ireland.

There was some relief under John Giles' management, a decent draw in Turkey in a Euro qualifier (1974) and a home win over Switzerland (1975) and then a 4-0 win in his final international, back where it all started (Dalymount Park), over Turkey in October 1975.

By then Dunne was an ex-United man, one of a batch of players axed by Tommy Docherty. Successor to the unfortunate Frank O'Farrell, who had taken over from Busby, Docherty tried to put his own stamp on that United side, with a different accent: the European Cup winning side had five players from the island of Ireland, Docherty's side had a Scottish flavour.

"Docherty wanted rid of me," Dunne says in 'United Irishmen'. "He just threw me out and it was a f****** nasty way he did it."

There was a dispute over Dunne's testimonial as another departure, team-mate Denis Law, was allowed to hold his benefit game first, a glamour fixture (and a money-spinning one) against Ajax while Dunne had to persuade Manchester City to provide the opposition for his own testimonial.

Dunne claims the game yielded £8,000 but United billed him £1,500 for rent of Old Trafford and policing costs. "The way the club handled the two testimonials was hurtful to me," he said.

Asked about his lowest moment at the club he said: "Leaving the club the way I did. No shame in leaving, it was just the way I did."

This week, United hailed Dunne as one of their best-ever full backs.