Millwall's Alan Dunne ends nine-year wait for shot at FA Cup glory in semi
Defender overlooked for 2004 FA Cup final to start Wembley semi against Wigan Athletic
Millwall defender Alan Dunne will end nine years of FA Cup heartache by finally appearing on the big stage in tonight's semi-final against Wigan.
Dunne is the only member of the Millwall squad that reached the FA Cup final in 2004 still on the books at the south London club, and his side's surprise run to this season's last four has provided an unexpected moment of personal redemption for the right-back as he prepares to line up against the Latics.
The 30-year-old, who has spent his entire career languishing in the lower leagues with the Lions, can still recall the frustration he felt in the days before Millwall's final showdown against Manchester United, when he was told by player-manager Dennis Wise that he would start the showpiece clash at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium, only to have his dreams dashed.
"I was playing up until two nights before," Dunne said. "Dennis Wise was injured, but he'd had some work done in Italy and decided he was going to play.
"I was heartbroken, but he told me he was only going to last 50 minutes and I would come on," Dunne added. "So after half-time, I started warming up, but he ended up playing a lot longer with the help of an injection.
"Then, when he decided to come off near the end, he chose to send on Curtis Weston so that he could become the youngest player to appear in an FA Cup final. It was tough to take."
Despite the snub, Dunne refused to hold a grudge against the former Chelsea and England midfielder, and looks back at the whole cup final experience more fondly these days.
"I had a few words with Wisey afterwards, but he was a friend as well as a manager and he looked after me, so there are no grudges," Dunne said. "He put his arm around me and we had a good drink that night.
"The medal's at home … not many players can say they have an FA Cup final medal, so it's something to show my kids.
"There was a lot of shirt-swapping after the match, but as a young boy I was too shy to ask anyone. I remember warming up with [Ryan] Giggs on the sidelines and I was completely starstruck."
For Dunne and his teammates, the Wembley match-up against Wigan offers a rare taste of what life is like for the top stars of the Premier League. It should also provide a more positive image for a club whose reputation has been tarnished hooliganism.
"The club has had some tough times … and the fans deserve it," Dunne said. "The gaffer Kenny Jackett, too. He deserves to take Millwall to an FA Cup semi-final more than anyone else."