Richard Dunne is sure that lengthy rehab has cured the collarbone injury which has kept him on the Premier League sidelines for the last 11 weeks.
Dunne however concedes that he will always have a doubt until he comes through the kind of physical challenge for which he has become famous. Elven weeks of sitting around have increased the desperation of the Tallaght native to prove his fitness.
“You’re probably better off running into a wall and seeing if you’re alright at the end of it,” he says, with a wry smile, but one suspects he is at least half serious, such is his to desire to finish the Premier League campaign, get to Poland and play for Ireland at Euro 2012.
Last week, Dunne engaged in activities more familiar to rugby than soccer players as he ran into tackle pads that Aston Villa bought for his use. The centre-half’s biggest test will however be full contact training.
He will enter first team training on Friday with an Aston Villa squad who could do with his experience so as to see them over the line this season, with the Birmingham outfit still needing at least one more win from their final three games to guarantee Premier League survival.
For Ireland, the prospect of entering battle in Group C without Dunne is a frightening thought. For the player, it’s worse than that.
His international career has built towards this summer. Ten years ago, he went to Japan and Korea and didn’t see a minute of action.
“You look back on it and say it was enjoyable,” he recalls. “At the time I was probably frustrated I didn’t play.”
Dunne has said that he can see excitement for the summer building in Dublin following what has been a difficult decade for the national soccer team, who have been the ‘poor relation’ compared to other codes (rugby union one imagines) over the last number of years.
Speaking of Ireland’s clash with Spain on 14th June, Dunne compared Ireland’s task to that faced by Chelsea this week:
“Chelsea have been outstanding over the two games, with their defending and concentration. We know that’s the sort of thing we’re going to have to do, to stifle them and force them to shoot from long distance rather than letting them get behind. It’s certainly something that can help us, hopefully.”
Aston Villa’s league campaign has gone from bad to worse following Tuesday’s defeat to Bolton which has seen the Villains take just eight points from their last 12 games.
The Birmingham side are now just three points above the drop zone (and the aforementioned Bolton who have a game in hand) so Dunne might be forced into action before he is 100% match fit. The consequences should something go wrong are too grave to contemplate for Ireland and Villa fans.