THE sad passing recently of Tony Dunne has broken another link with the Manchester United team that won the European Cup in 1968.
Dunne was one of the unsung heroes of that great team, a player whose name might never have shone as brightly as some other members of that great team but that did not lessen the impact that he made.
The Republic of Ireland was well represented on that historic night in Wembley 52 years ago with Dunne and Shay Brennan, also sadly departed, playing key roles from their full-back slots.
Four starters from that May night have now been called to their eternal reward, Dunne and Brennan, Bill Foulkes and George Best.
Like all the others on that team, Dunne etched his name into Manchester United folklore on that never to be forgotten night against Eusebio’s Benfica when they triumphed 4-1 after extra-time.
The emotion of that occasion will live with every United supporter the world over, it was the fulfilment of a dream that had died 10 years earlier in the Munich crash.
If that was United’s darkest hour, Wembley a decade later was their brightest.
I was 14 years old then, my support of United had begun five years earlier when Noel Cantwell had lifted the FA Cup at Wembley after defeating Leicester City.
Having a Cork man going up those steps to receive a trophy of that magnitude made that a very special occasion too.
The league titles of 1965 and 1967 followed, paving the way to chase the biggest prize of all, the European Cup as it was known then.
Glasgow Celtic had led the way in that year of ’67 when they triumphed against Inter Milan in Lisbon with a very special team, a bunch of players that were bred, born and reared within earshot of Parkhead under the stewardship of the great Jock Stein.
The pressure was now on United to emulate that achievement, to become the first English winners of the famous trophy and in doing so to honour the memory of those boys that had lost their lives on a Munich runway.
It was manager Matt Busby’s dream, an obsession really to win it for the young men who were denied the opportunity.
There are so many abiding images from that night against the Portuguese champions, United going a goal up only for Benfica to equalise with 10 minutes to go and bring the game into extra-time.
It’s history now of what transpired in those closing 30 minutes, Best, Brian Kidd and Charlton again scoring as United ran riot.
However, it could all have been so different if goalkeeper Alex Stepney had not produced a wondrous save from the great Eusebio in the dying embers of regulation time, a save that brought applause from the great man himself.
Of all the subsequent saves made by United goalkeepers in the many seasons that have followed, none were as important as that one.
The after-match scenes are still vivid for this observer, the tears of Bobby Charlton, the embrace of Best and Busby, the joy on Paddy Crerand’s face and so on.
Another unsung hero on that United team was Johnny Aston and his performance in that final will stand the test of time, his dazzling brilliance on the wing earning him the man of the match award.
Manchester United have had so many great days since, days we’ll remember until our time comes too.
The drama of their subsequent wins in Europe, the late, late goals against Bayern Munich, the penalty shootout with Chelsea.
But that night in 1968 is just impossible to surpass and to have two of our own in Brennan and Tony Dunne playing such key roles made it all the sweeter.
Dunne had a glittering career at Old Trafford, playing over 500 games for the club and to this day one of their great full-backs.
But the ending of his time at the club did not match his achievements, Tommy Docherty coming in as boss and ousting the former Shelbourne player.
He joined Bolton and played over 170 times for United’s near neighbours but he will be fondly remembered by the now older generation of United supporters.
His legacy is rich, you don’t play for one of the world’s greatest clubs without being a very, very good footballer.
That he was and how right and fitting it was that his place at United years later should be taken by our own Denis Irwin.
And what a worthy successor he proved to be.
There were no banner headlines last week at the passing of Tony Dunne. He probably would not have wanted that anyway.
He was somebody who went about his business in a very efficient manner, playing a hugely significant role in a team that every Manchester United fan remembers with affection and pride.
Signing Dunne from Shelbourne FC was one of the best bits of business done by Matt Busby.