Richard Dunne rekindled memories of the legendary Paul McGrath as the Republic of Ireland kept their World Cup dreams alive in Bulgaria.
The 29-year-old Manchester City defender turned in a superb individual performance at the Vasil Levski Stadium in Sofia to lay the foundation for a 1-1 draw which keeps the Republic in the hunt for a top two finish in Group 8. Not only did Dunne marshal his defence to keep out a Bulgaria side including Dimitar Berbatov, Stiliyan Petrov, Martin Petrov and Valeri Bojinov, but he also headed home the 24th-minute goal which opened the scoring.
Skipper Robbie Keane said: "Richard has played a lot of superb games, but it was certainly one of his great games, scoring the goal and the whole thing of being injured as well. To get through it, it was reminiscent of Paul McGrath."
The Irish were forced to hang on for dear life once the Bulgarians had levelled after midfielder Dimitar Telkiyski took full advantage of Kevin Kilbane's slip.
Dunne, who had a pain-killing injection in his knee before the game, revelled in his mission as he shepherded Preston's Sean St Ledger through his competitive debut in an Ireland shirt to draw high praise from his team-mates.
Club-mate Shay Given said: "He had an injection before the game. We were trying to keep that quiet from the Bulgarians, but I think he should have one every week, he was that good. He was fantastic.
"I have been playing with him now since the end of January at Manchester City. I know he came in for a bit of stick at the start of the season, but since I have been at Manchester City, he has been fantastic.
"Here he was a real rock - Paul McGrath-like, to be honest. It was unbelievable. He was different class and deservedly man of the match."
Dunne modestly played down his role in a draw which leaves Ireland a point adrift of leaders Italy, but crucially five ahead of Bulgaria with both sides having played one game fewer than Giovanni Trapattoni's men.
Asked if automatic qualification is still within their grasp, he said: "I hope so, that's been the aim all along. We know we have to go to Cyprus now and probably get the three points rather than the draw. But if we go there and win that, we know we have got a great chance going into the last two games."
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