Millwall captain and Dubliner Alan Dunne has served at the Den for over ten years – and he tells David Hennessy he’d now love a chance to show the Republic of Ireland what he can do
It was ten years ago that Millwall, a second tier club, made it all the way to the FA Cup final to be defeated 0-3 by a Manchester United side that boasted stars like Cristiano Ronaldo, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Ryan Giggs and Roy Keane. Of the sixteen players named in Millwall’s squad for that day at Cardiff Millennium Stadium, only Alan Dunne from Dublin remains playing at the club. The long standing Millwall servant who has only ever played for one club Dunne has been named as leader of the pride, captain of the Lions in this promising season. Although he accepts it may not be this year, manager Ian Holloway has stated emphatically that the club are one step away from the Premieship.
“What a remarkable season that could have been,” Dunne reflects on the club’s 2004 achievements. “I think we were sixth in the championship when we got to the final, we were flying that season. I think the FA Cup took us off track of getting promoted to the top flight. Ten years goes quickly and I’m still here but I’ve been here 22 years so ten years is not even half of that. Time flies but the club’s come on even since then, the standards have been raised a lot higher and we’ve got a good manager and a good chairman and a good board. The club’s in a good place right now.”
Sadly that would be the peak for that promising Millwall team with the club losing the nucleus of their cup heroes within the next year, even manager Dennis Wise had departed: “Timmy (Cahill) left, Paul Ifill, Tony Warner, Kevin Muscat, Andy Roberts, Peter Sweeney, Marvin Elliott, all those players. It was a tight knitted team and it was team spirit that got us where we were that year. Credit to Wisey, he created that team spirit and I think it worked.
“It just shows you that sometimes people have got to go their own way. After Dennis Wise left, I think a lot of players left. After that, we got relegated, the chairman left us, things were at a low for Millwall, one of the lowest since I’ve been here. Since then, it’s picked back up, (Chairman) John Berylson’s come in, brought in Kenny Jackett (Millwall manager 2007-2013) and Ian Holloway as well so the club’s in a lot better position.”
With the South East London club since he was a young child, Alan Dunne has indeed been with Millwall through ups and downs: “I’m very privileged to have been here since the age of ten, it’s a fantastic club and to play at one club and be trusted by a lot of different managers to keep me here and chairmen means a lot. I’m hoping to have another ten years here still and if I can finish my career here, it will be some worthwhile achievement and that’s my goal.”
A more immediate goal is promotion the Premiership and this is a goal everyone at Millwall seems to believe is possible. The team went eight games unbeaten to escape relegation last year. Having already started with victory over Leeds United, such form would be good enough to mount a serious challenge: “We’re not looking to stay in the division, we’re aiming to get out of the division and into the top flight. The last couple of years, we’ve looked at it and thought, ‘right we’re working towards staying in the division’ but we’ve set our sights a lot higher this year. Finishing the end of last year, we’ve set the standards higher and we’ve got to live up to that now. It’s all about your mindset and the manager wants our mindset to aim for promotion and the top two and nothing else. I think it is a major factor. If we set your mindset to go out like that, who knows what we can achieve and where we can go with it.
“We finished with eight games unbeaten against some of the best sides. We know it’s going to be a tough season but we know if we stick to what we believe in and the manager’s way of tactics and stuff, we can start this season as we finished last season.”
Ian Holloway has an impressive record of managing promotion-winning teams and his arrival at Millwall brought about a turnaround in fortunes that saved them from relegation. What is it about the man that inspires such performances? “No disrespect to Kenny, I think Kenny’s one of the best I’ve worked with, but Holloway’s a step above him. He’s been there, done it, he’s very experienced, he’s managed over 800 games, he’s not someone who can be kidded. He’s as honest as the day is long. He speaks the truth and his enthusiasm is infectious. He does a lot of meetings and a lot of talking but it is effective and he’s helping the team and the young players come through and teaching them the way we play and every player’s getting the chance. I think since he’s come in, he’s been a breath of fresh air and he wants hard work, he knows what’s expected and he’s been there, done it before in this division so he knows what’s needed.”
If Millwall are flying high in the championship, Alan could get a call from the Republic of Ireland set up: “I’d like to get a chance or at least have a chance to go and train and show what I can do there. Why it hasn’t happened, I’m not too sure but maybe at centre half I can offer something different. I feel I’m good enough and experienced enough to offer something at that level and who knows, if we’re having a good season here and we’re challenging in the top six, top ten, I might get a call up, I wouldn’t rule it out. I’m still only young, 31, especially at centre half and I feel I could offer a lot at that level.”
Alan is seventh on the list of Millwall players who have made the most appearances but playing centre back is relatively new as he has always been full back: “Ian Holloway thinks I can offer something with my pace and experience and how I read the game at the back and my passing ability. It’s worked so far.”
Although he named in the squad for the 2004 FA Cup final, Dunne didn’t get on the field that day. In the 2012-13 season, he did get a chance to play in almost as big an occasion when he played in Millwall’s FA Cup semi-final against Wigan, a game Millwall lost 0-2: “It was my second time playing at Wembley [Dunne played in the 2009 play-off final although this ended in defeat to Scunthorpe]. I felt we had a chance of beating them that year and it’s a shame we didn’t but it was an unbelievable atmosphere to be part of. It was still a fantastic day for the club and we brought a lot of fans there and I think it put us on the map again, getting to the last four in any competition is remarkable. I think we could have beat them on the day. It wasn’t to be. We’ve had some good luck in the cup competitions over the years, I think it’s time we had some in the league now.”
That semi-final will be remembered for crowd trouble with Millwall fans fighting each other. Millwall had done great work to combat their unsavoury image and thought it had been left behind: “I didn’t see any being on the field, it was enough seeing 60, 70,000 people there roaring. It’s very hard to see anything during a game of that concentration. I didn’t see anything, I only heard about it after but it didn’t affect any of us on the pitch.”