Denis Irwin.

'Us full-backs never hog the limelight'

Tuesday 09 June 2020 15:00

Former Manchester United defender Denis Irwin is often compared to Tony Dunne and he always takes it as a huge compliment.

Both Republic of Ireland left-backs, their names always crop up in any discussion regarding the best-ever United XI.

It is easy to see the similarities as Sir Matt Busby and Sir Alex Ferguson would build their great sides with an ultra-reliable Irishman in that position; unassuming individuals who were consistently excellent in their role in the team.

After hearing the sad news of Dunne's death, Treble-winner Irwin says he learned much about his fellow countryman's character from former United assistant-manager Brian Kidd, a colleague of the Dubliner's at Old Trafford.

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"I was compared to him, obviously being Irish," Denis told us. "And 'Kiddo' always used to say he was fantastic; as quick as anything and he just got on with his duty and what he was good at. So the comparisons have always been there, to be honest.

“He made six more appearances than me and was involved in, I suppose, the rebuilding of United after Munich. I think he joined in 1960 and I heard great things about him.

“It's very sad he's passed away. I know he lived locally and ran the Altrincham driving range, where I bumped into him a couple of times. So I only met him briefly down there but 'Kiddo' used to say he was as nice as anybody and a great player. That's what I got from him, somebody who was very unassuming and just got on with his life.

"Full-backs don't hog the limelight. You need them to get on with their job and it's just part and parcel of football. You're a little unnoticed and unheralded a bit. But he played 13 years at the club and was part of the 1968 European Cup final-winning team. To make 535 appearances says an awful lot about him.

“Don't forget you had to be tough in those days as well, if you know what I mean. I don't think he was the tallest of players but you had to be tough and able to compete.

"Tony grew up in Dublin and played for a really big club there, in terms of youth football, in Stella Maris," added Irwin. "He went on to Shelbourne, who were probably the biggest club in Ireland at the time, before coming across the water.

“He played a lot for Ireland, which is good and why he was always compared to me as I'm Irish as well. The comparison was there and still is. If you see anything written or said about the best player who played for United, his name still comes up, which I think is really good.

“He played a long time ago and, as time goes on, people remember the ones who are a bit more recent. So that was always good to see."

Dunne rated Irwin highly.

Back in 1999, before Irwin helped United clinch the Treble, Dunne was asked for his views on his fellow countryman and clearly rated one of Sir Alex's most trusted regulars highly.

"I think he's brilliant, solid as a rock and never caught out of position," said Dunne. "And when it comes to striking the ball, there's no better player in the modern game."

Naturally, Denis was modest when hearing of the praise.

"They're very kind words," he told us. "Listen, he's number eight in the all-time appearance list for United and, for somebody to last that long, at that level, tells you he was a fantastic player.

“I can only go on what 'Kiddo' used to say - that he was brilliant and just used to get on with the job. He was a typical United full-back. You need to be able to play football and be quick."