GAA Background & 'Raw Irishness' Helping QPR's Jimmy Dunne Thrive In Suitable Surroundings

GAA Background & 'Raw Irishness' Helping QPR's Jimmy Dunne Thrive In Suitable Surroundings

Gary Connaughton By Gary Connaughton

The vast majority young Irish players that move to the UK to pursue a career in professional football assume that everything will work out for them at their club of choice. While the odds suggest that very few of them will end up making a living in the game, that type of self-belief is required if they are to become top level pros.

Many of them return to Ireland within a couple of years, and while some will come emerge from the cutthroat world of Premier League academies relatively unscathed, others will have to overcome some major setbacks along the way.

Jimmy Dunne knows this better than most.

He came through the academy at Manchester United, a period during which things rarely came easy for him. Just when it looked as though he was making progress on his goal of playing for their first team, that dream was suddenly taken away from him after a 'brutally honest' conversation with head of first-team development Nicky Butt.

Speaking to Balls, he recalled how it was a difficult thing to process at the time.

My heart sank.

I think a week before that, I had a phone call and a discussion about changing my third year scholar contract into a professional year.

I had started to do alright at that age, I wasn't injured anymore and stuff like that. I was kind of overwhelmed and excited. I remember I rung my Mam and stuff.

Then a week later, I spoke to Nicky. He was brutally honest and said to me that he thinks the better opportunity for my career would be to go and play at Burnley.

I was reluctant. I told my agents, Jackie Evans and Colin Murdock, that I didn't want to do it. They were adamant that this was best for me, the club were adamant that this was best for me.

In the end, they were spot on.

Dunne had gone through plenty of trials and tribulations to even reach that point.

He had been a part of the academy setup at United in some way for the best part of a decade, making the trip from his local Dundalk and club team Rock Celtic to their regional academy in Belfast in order to receive some top class coaching.


This continued up until his teenage years, at which point he concentrated on playing for Dublin club St Kevin's and attending trials in the UK. Eventually, he was offered the opportunity to sign for the Red Devils on a full-time basis as a 16-year old in 2014.

However, those early days in England proved to be very difficult both on and off the pitch.

I think I'd be lying if I said I didn't struggle in some aspects. I missed my family a lot.

The first six months were fun and then it kind of hit me. I had done trials for like a month or two months, but I don't think I saw my Mum for like six months and I started really struggling. That's when the battle really begun.

Then injuries came along, I spent maybe 13 months at 16 or 17 not playing football and just going to school over there. Life just felt a little bit surreal, because the thing I'd gone over for, I wasn't really doing.

Man United was a bit of a struggle, all in all. Looking back on it, it was kind of an uphill battle. It definitely shaped me, but it was tough, tough experience.

While now forging a very successful life for himself in England with QPR, Dunne is still very much a home bird. He travels back to Louth frequently and his face lights up whenever he is given the opportunity discuss where he came from.

He is a proud Dundalk man, something that has helped shape him into the player he has become.

His life was built around sport growing up, something that wasn't only limited to soccer. He was heavily involved with local GAA club Geraldines (locally known as 'the Gers') while growing up, with his time split evenly between both sports in his younger days.


It is something he still feels the benefit of now.

I'm not sure if Gaelic football was my preferred sport, but it was definitely toe to toe with balancing the both of them. Where where I grew up, we're very passionate about playing for our local club. Louth is like that anyway, it's competitive.

I think my second trial at United, Walter Murphy (the local Man United scout) nearly killed me.

I couldn't go over because I broke my toe in a GAA match the night before! I think I was supposed to fly to Manchester on the Saturday morning and I was playing for the Gers on Friday night. He was raging, like 'what is this lad thinking', but that was the norm.

GAA definitely helps improve your competitive edge. When I went over for and I trained with these clubs, I still have that kind of real raw Irishness about me. I wanted to win everything.

Everything was a final to me because that's the way it was back home, so it definitely helped.


He needed that toughness during his early days in senior football. After joining Burnley, the defender found himself shipped out on loan to several different clubs.

The first move came at non-league club Barrow, where he was warned about the challenges of 'men's football'. He seemed to take their advice a bit too literally. To put it delicately, he would slightly stretch the rules during his time in the division.

I think I missed something like nine games through suspension when I was at Barrow because I just kept getting sent off. I was elbowing people!

They were telling me 'this is a man's game and you need to be competitive'. Then they were like 'jesus' when I was going around elbowing everyone. I definitely had to adapt.

His time out on loan at the likes of Accrington Stanley, Hearts, and Sunderland would prove to be fruitful, showing enough to become part of the Burnley first team squad for the 2020/21 season.

With injuries and covid related issues limiting their options at centre back, he would be handed a Premier League debut against Leicester City in September of 2020. While they would lose that game, Dunne did score and acquitted himself very well.

Unfortunately, the return of Ben Mee and James Tarkowski meant that his opportunities were rather limited over the remainder of the campaign. At the end of the season, for the second time in his career, he decided he was ready to accept a new challenge.

That summer would prove to be a difficult one. Burnley would be owed compensation for his departure, with the defender having spent a couple of years in their academy system. With money tight for many clubs due to the pandemic, this meant that finding a new team was not easy.

After QPR eventually did come in for him that July, Dunne hasn't looked back since.

To be honest, I'm loving it here. I love the club I'm at and I'm learning a lot still.

I really appreciate the fans at this club because they're super genuine. They are all from roughly the same area, it's not a touristy club at QPR. The people that support QPR are really genuine, really passionate. We have a great away following, things like that.

They've been frustrated at the minute and rightly so, because the way we've started seasons the last couple of seasons, we build such high expectations and then we we kind of dip and swerve. We have to show them that we're capable of getting back to where we were at the start of the season.

Dunne has missed only a handful of Championship fixtures since joining the club, making 22 appearances in the division so far this season. Having started the campaign well, they currently sit in 13th position after a difficult run of form. In saying that, they sit just four points outside the play-offs with plenty of games still to be played.

Away from the pitch, he has thrived in an Irish-heavy West London community. There are plenty of people from this part of the world in the local area, as well as one or two well-known local Irish boozers. The 24-year old insists he has not frequented them too often.

He also has family ties to the area. Both his grandmother and aunt moved to West London to work as nurses in years gone by, and while his type employment is a very different one, he admits it is surreal to follow in the footsteps laid out by previous generations of his family.

My Nana and my auntie were nurses in West London. There were loads of people that had to come over to London for work when Ireland was struggling, so there's a massive Irish community here.

There's a few GAA clubs that I haven't sussed out yet, but I've always been saying to myself that I'm definitely going to put my head into the nearest GAA club and see what the craic is as well...

It is surreal (to follow in family footsteps). London is changing so much. My auntie showed me a picture when she was in Hammersmith down the road and London's constantly expanding out and out and out. It's such a booming city.

I feel the same. I'm coming over here for work, the same way they were, you know.

As a proud Irishman, it won't come as a surprise to learn that one of his biggest goals is to pull on the green jersey at senior level. Dunne has been called up to a number of squads in the past, although he has yet to earn his first cap.

You get the sense that it is coming. He has been among the most consistent Irish performers in England over the last 18 months or so, with his age profile suggesting that international football is very much in his future.

You could say that he is unfortunate to play at centre back, a position that Stephen Kenny possesses plenty of options in. He doesn't see it that way.

I think it's a really positive thing to have talented centre backs to compare and compete with, it really pushes you and drives you on. It's healthy.

I believe I'll be in there when the time's right. The time is not right now, so that's fine. I'm just going to keep working on myself and when the time's right, I'll be there...

In my head, whichever centre backs are going to get to the Premier League and play regularly, that's really the only way you can kind of compare.

In my mind, I've parked it and said 'I'm going to get the Premier League and when I'm playing there and doing well, then I'll be expecting it'. I'll be more ready then as well. I've kind of decided that in my own head.

Considering the other hurdles he has overcome to get to this point in his career, you get the sense that it won't be long before Jimmy Dunne can overstep the latest one that become a Premier League and Ireland regular.

For now, he is just enjoying the ride.

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