ALAN Dunne believes the agony of missing out on the chance to play in Millwall’s FA Cup final loss to Manchester United in 2004 was a crucial learning curve in his career.
Dunne was an unused substitute at the Millennium Stadium nine years ago as the 11-time winners of the competition eased to a 3-0 victory over the Lions.
And while the 30-year-old is far from bitter about that experience, he is desperate to reach another showpiece final to put those demons to rest once and for all.
Millwall will at least secure a Wembley semi-final if they beat Blackburn Rovers in their last-eight tie at The Den on Sunday afternoon and Dunne is relishing the prospect of more FA Cup success.
“Not many people get to play at Wembley in their career so it is a massive carrot,” he said. “If we do beat Blackburn we’re one game away from the final and anything can happen in a one-off game.
“Millwall would take 40,000 fans to Wembley and we are capable of beating a top side in a game of 90 minutes. That could take you anywhere – into Europe even. It’s all to play for.
“The club has had some tough times over the years and the fans deserve it – and the gaffer Kenny Jackett too. He deserves to take Millwall to an FA Cup semi-final more than anyone else.”
Dunne was 22 when Millwall reached the final against Sir Alex Ferguson’s side and while at the time the day felt bittersweet, the Irishman now looks back at Cardiff with fond memories.
“I was playing up until two nights before,” he recalled. “Dennis Wise was injured but he’d had some work done in Italy and decided he was going to play for the first 20 minutes.
“He ended up playing a lot longer with the help of an injection. As a youngster, thinking you might play and then not playing was obviously very disappointing.
“I was gutted not to get on but it made me stronger. When you get knocked down you have to get back up. Hopefully that time will come around again for me.
“Being part of the squad, playing in Europe and watching players like Kevin Muscat helped me learn and want success. A few of the older lads put their arm around me afterwards.
“But Wisey was a great guy and a great friend – he was great to have as a coach and Ray Wilkins too. They were two fantastic people who were big characters you could look up to.
“There were young lads like myself in and around the squad and we had a good bond. There were a lot of laughs and jokes – so the experience wasn’t too sour for me.
“In a footballer’s career there are more lows than highs so you have to learn from them. It made me hungry for success and gave me a taste of what I wanted to achieve.
“Just to be part of the squad and sitting on the bench for an FA Cup final was a fantastic experience for me and I am grateful for that.”
Despite not playing, Dunne still treasures his runners-up medal and a fleeting encounter with Wales legend Ryan Giggs – even though he was too afraid to ask for his shirt at full-time.
“The medal’s at home next to my League One play-off final medal,” he said. “It’s lovely to have – not many players can say they have an FA Cup final medal so it’s something to show my kids.
“They were comfortable on the day. The occasion overawed us and they were a quality side. It was intimidating and the game was over very quickly. But we were just happy to be there.
“There was a lot of shirt-swapping. As a young boy I was too shy to ask anyone – the older lot were getting in there. There was Ronaldo, Van Nistelrooy, Giggs, Keane, Scholes and I was a little boy.
“Their line-up was incredible – one of the strongest United sides. Just to be near them was amazing. I think I was warming up with Giggs on the sidelines so I was completely star struck.
“If we get through to the next round and draw United, I don’t think Giggs will remember me!”