BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
JIMMY DUNNE may have been the only Manchester United fan with posters of Steven Gerrard on his wall.
However, the Hearts ace is adamant he will be anything but starstruck when the Jambos attempt to breach Fortress Ibrox.
Craig Levein’s men, who boast a five-point lead at the summit of the Premiership, face the onerous challenge of halting the Gers’ impressive home form, which has seen them register seven wins from eight and score 25 goals in the process.
For Dunne, the scale of a tantalising occasion is only magnified by the presence of Anfield hero Gerrard on the touchline, a player who was so iconic that he managed to transcend Liverpool-Manchester United divide.
“I don’t want to say it too much but there was probably a poster or two [of Gerrard] on my bedroom wall,” laughed Dunne. “I had to rip them off the wall when I went to Man Utd!
“It’s usually just one or the other in Ireland, I grew up as a Manchester United supported really but it could go either way. My mates are all either Man United or Liverpool.
“Having a manager like Gerrard in this league has brought a lot of attention from the press this season and it just makes the occasion all the better.”
Nevertheless, Dunne will not be overawed by Gerrard or the challenge of derailing Rangers’ Ibrox juggernaut tomorrow as the Jambos seek to make yet another ‘statement’ in their shock early title challenge.
“It’s a huge occasion in front of thousands of people, but one thing we won’t do is let the occasion get the better of us,” he continued. “We just need to keep doing what we’ve been doing all season, doing the basics well, and I think we’ll be alright.
“We’ve made a huge statement already. One or two wins on the trot could be classed as lucky but we’ve gone a long way now and we’re sitting pretty. We need to continue that and keep proving people wrong and making statements. A great way to do that would be to win this weekend.
“I watched them on Thursday. It [the atmosphere] was goosebumps stuff. I think it’ll be similar on Sunday. When I watch it back afterward I’ll probably think ‘wow, I can’t believe we went through that’ – but when it’s game time, it’s game time.”
Dunne’s maturity is striking as he prepares for what he acknowledges will be the biggest game of his career to date and goes some way to explaining the seamless way he has slotted into central defence alongside the superb John Souttar.
The fact that Christophe Berra’s absence has not been sorely felt is a considerable compliment to the former Manchester United kid, who has excelled since arriving on loan from Burnley.
“In League Two I played in a lot of big games on loan with Accrington when we were trying to win the title last season,” continued Dunne. “There were 30,000 people at Coventry, about 15,000 at Luton.
“They were very important games but I don’t think I’ve played in any games of the magnitude that Ibrox. I’ve grown up watching games there on television and I’ve always been blown away by it so I feel very lucky.”
If Dunne’s current rate of progress continues, it seems inevitable that he will soon catch the eye of Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill.
He has represented his country at under-21 level, while ex-Celtic boss Martin O’Neill has shown a willingness to look to the Scottish capital for talent, having called up Hearts teammate Colin Doyle and Hibs’ Daryl Horgan for his latest squad.
“I’ve always wanted to play for my country one day,” continued Dunne. “It’s one of those things that if it comes, brilliant, but if it doesn’t you just concentrate on your club football.
“The better you do at your club, the more of a chance you give yourself. I’m just trying to see how far I can go with my club football and hopefully one day that opportunity [with Ireland] arises.
“This is an ideal platform. This league is well televised, it’s well supported. If I do well, it’s known about, it’s heard of elsewhere, which is brilliant. That’s what I needed. It’s a great place to be.”