One last hurrah for Dublin

As the Norwich City players walked off the pitch at Hillsborough after the last game of the season, the eyes of more than 2000 City fans were focusing on just one player - Dion Dublin.

By CHRIS LAKEY

As the Norwich City players walked off the pitch at Hillsborough after the last game of the season, the eyes of more than 2000 City fans were focusing on just one player - Dion Dublin.

Many believed it would be the last sighting of the great man in the yellow and green - at 38 years old he had every right to call it a day.

Dublin had enjoyed an illustrious career spanning 19 years, playing for the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson, Gordon Strachan, Graham Taylor and David O'Leary. He'd worn the colours of two of Britain's biggest clubs and played for England. And he'd won plenty of fans on the way - both on the terraces and down in the corridors of power.


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But on that sunny day in Sheffield last month he could have been forgiven for thinking that his job was done. He'd help haul City up by their bootlaces to finally skate clear of the relegation zone and settle for a 16th place finish. What everyone believed was his last hurrah was over.

Or was it?

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Sure, there were times when he looked battle-weary, but he was never brought in to play 90 minutes of every match. In a squad short on numbers, it was Dublin and his fitness which dictated the only squad rotation system in force at Carrow Road.

It was Dublin who made the decisions over his fitness, it was Dublin whose week began two or three days after everyone else's.

But the injuries which did so much to end City's promotion hopes also meant the plans for Dublin were soon ripped up.

Dublin's arrival as Nigel Worthington's last signing had been met with criticism in some quarters, especially by those who wanted to see former City star Chris Sutton back. But it didn't take long to win over the doubters and as the season went on, Dublin became a growing influence on the team.

But the burden on his shoulders was immense. It was bad enough that he was called in to play at the back when his preferred role was in attack - but when players began dropping like flies, it was Dublin who had to step into the breach. Consequently, instead of a gently, gently approach, Dublin was the first name on the team-sheet - and it wasn't on the subs' bench.

Peter Grant's problem was not just trying to fill the gaps - it was watching Dublin run out alongside Jason Shackell knowing that what he really wanted was to see him in attack, next to Robert Earnshaw or Darren Huckerby.

The fact that Dublin was excellent in both positions just made it that much more frustrating - although it convinced Grant long before the season ended that he would offer Dublin another contract.

They say the legs go first - but remember the way Dublin outpaced Southampton's 20-year-old Andrew Surman as they chased a long hoof from the keeper. Remember the way he brought another long hoof under control with one foot and, in the same motion, passed it accurately with the other. Not many players in the Championship were capable of that last season.

Dublin points almost as much as Grant does, but he was the manager's voice on the pitch. He organised and tinkered - and City looked better for it.

And that was in defence. How about attack?

Five goals in 22 Championship starts is no bad return for someone playing two roles, but it was his nous as much as his ability to put the ball in the back of the net, which had fans purring. Dublin is credited with assisting on four league and cup goals, but in reality it was much more than that. That final day at Hillsborough was heading for an ignominious ending - until Grant sent Dublin forward into attack. Within 10 minutes he'd set one up for Earnshaw and the comeback had begun. Dublin added a second himself, but it wasn't enough - but how many times can one man fight the battle alone?

It was a cameo performance that underlined Dublin's importance to Norwich City and maybe strengthened Grant's resolve to get Dublin back for another season.

However, while the offer was right and the club was right, Dublin had to convince his family that it was right to go on for another year. It's a long way from the Midlands to Norwich, especially for a man who has spent almost two decades on the road in the name of football. Grant, with nothing else to offer but plans to be prepared, gave Dublin time to reach a decision. The deadline passed. No news. Grant must have felt like a man awaiting a jury's verdict - was the long wait good news, or bad?

Just before the weekend he had his answer, but it wasn't until Dublin had put pen to paper this week that it was made public.

Grant had got his man - hopefully, next season he can be used in the way life was intended for a 38-year-old - sparingly, but effectively.

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