A MANCHESTER United legend spurned at Old Trafford who found a happy home at Burnden Park, Tony Dunne will rightly be remembered as one of Bolton’s greatest-ever left-backs.

Although the Ireland international was 32 by the time he signed for Jimmy Armfield at the start of the 1973/74 season, he was still a first-team regular in the First Division some six years later.

Dunne’s incredible longevity in the autumnal years of his career helped him play 193 games for the Whites as a reliable and consistent presence on the left side of defence.

It was confirmed by his hometown club Shelbourne on Monday night that Dunne had passed away at the age of 78, sparking a flood of tributes from the footballing fraternity.

But while the left-back will be best remembered for being an integral part of United’s 1968 European Cup triumph, the crowning achievement of a 535-game career with the Reds, the man himself would hold a trophy he won at Bolton in even higher esteem.

After going so agonisingly close on two occasions under Ian Greaves in 1976 and 1977, Bolton finally secured promotion to the top-flight with victory against Blackburn Rovers on April 26, 1978.

After the final whistle, Dunne – then 37, and also a two-time league and FA Cup winner with United – said the achievement surpassed anything that had gone before.

“I’ve never been more pleased in all my career,” he said. “I can’t say I felt any better winning any other trophy – it’s a great feeling”

Whether the emotion of the game had caught up with him or not, Dunne held on to a feeling that he had been mistreated by United to his later years.

He made his final appearance for the Reds in a 4-1 defeat against Ipswich Town in April 1973, after which his relationship with manager Tommy Docherty deteriorated.

He was also at odds with the club over his testimonial, which had to be staged before that of Dennis Law’s against Ajax. A game against City raised £8,000 but Dunne later claimed that United had billed him £1,500 for the use of Old Trafford and policing costs.

Asked in 1999 what his biggest regret in football was, he said "leaving United the way I did, there was no shame in leaving, it was just the way I did".

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At 32 he went to Bolton to add a touch of experience to Armfield’s recently promoted team, which was blooding young defenders such as Mike Walsh, Paul Jones and Sam Allardyce.

“Tony signed at pretty much the same time as I turned professional in 1973,” Walsh told The Bolton News. “I was a United fan as a kid and I’d watched them win the European Cup at 12 years old, so to see him come to my club and hold him in such high estimation was great.

“In the early days I was living across the other side of Manchester and I’d get a bus over to Sale to meet Tony, who’d drive into training every day, so I got pretty close to him.”

Only Alex Stepney, Wayne Rooney, Gary Neville, Bill Foulkes, Paul Scholes, Sir Bobby Charlton and Ryan Giggs have played more games for Manchester United than Dunne, and so for Wanderers’ young crop of players he was a perfect mentor.

“He was a massive help to me,” Walsh said. “He was a fairly quiet character. Didn’t have any airs and graces but he wasn’t particularly extravagant.

“When we were training and playing I’d be the left-sided centre-half and he was at left-back, so he’d talk you through. He was never someone who roared at you, or would hammer you if you made a mistake, but he had a way of saying just a couple of words. You always knew he was there.

“He was at the end of his career but he was super quick. If he chased you, he was catching you, end of story.”

Jones, speaking with a tearful croak in his voice, credited his former team-mate with helping to shape his own success in a Bolton shirt.

“I respected the guy so much,” he said. “I wouldn’t have been half the player I was had he not been there to look after me and I am so sad he’s gone.

“He would be there to tell me what to do, where to stand. He was simply unbelievable and without doubt the best left-back I ever played with.”

As Ian Greaves introduced a handful of experienced heads into the dressing room, Dunne was joined by ex-England internationals Peter Thompson and Frank Worthington and his former United team-mate, Willie Morgan.

But any suggestion that players were being put out to pasture at Bolton was scrubbed out by performances on the pitch.

“On that left wing they just never got past Tony,” Jones said. “And then you’d give the ball to Thommo and have a five-minute rest because he wouldn’t lose it.

“Or if you needed a free kick or a penalty, ping one over to Willie and he’d do the rest.

“It was a privilege to play in that team. But as a young kid coming through, we looked up to Tony and he looked after us.

“When I first started off there were players like Warwick Rimmer, who was very similar, just a word here or there. And there was big John Hulme, who’d bite your head off and spit it out!

“But no matter if you were young or old, there was a lot of respect for Tony at that club.”

Peter Nicholson was saddened to hear that Dunne had passed away, referring to his old team-mate as a “Rolls Royce” during his time at Burnden.

“You never saw him on his backside,” he said. “He didn’t need to make a tackle, he just had the timing to pinch the ball and away he’d go.

“He was an awesome player to have in your team because you didn’t have to worry about him, you knew he was so consistent, every week the same.

“He wasn’t a massive socialiser – certainly not in the George Best category – but he was a solid fella and he’ll be missed, that’s for sure.”

Dunne moved from Bolton briefly to play in the US but returned alongside Stan Anderson in 1980 with Wanderers about to bow out of the top-flight.

Jones recalls that his former team-mate struggled to convey his knowledge from the sidelines, which led to one of his biggest bust-ups at Burnden.

“I have only ever told one manager he was rubbish, and it was Stan Anderson,” he said.

“I told him that Dunney could do a better job, and he called me a cheat. He said all the other managers felt I was a cheat too.

“I said ‘why do you keep picking me then?’ And Stan answered back: ‘Because we need you, Jonesy!’ “As it turns out, Tony wasn’t any good at coaching either. He wanted to be on the pitch talking to players, not pointing at them from the sidelines.”

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Brian Kidd – who would later accept an invitation from Dunne to join him at Wanderers and strengthen the ex-United bond – was also keen to pay tribute.

“His ability goes without saying,” he said. “We didn't know much about world football in those days but anyone in that era would say he was the best left back in Europe, without doubt.

“He was so modest and had a lot of empathy and he epitomised everything that Sir Matt wanted in a player – humility and modesty. He just got on with it.

“For me, as a young boy I hit it off with him straight away.

“These days players have all the education and opportunity to be better but in those days it was down to you.

“Many a time Tony would say to me after training 'let's go out and do some more'.

“I was left-footed like he was and he'd get me to take him on one v one.

“I ended up rooming with him on a United trip to America, New Zealand and Australia.

“He took me under his wing and the advice and guidance he gave me was just invaluable for me as a young player.”

Both Kidd and Dunne proved to be influential figures at Burnden, and Jones recalls how both helped to keep the dressing room together in difficult times.

"Kiddo was superb," he said. "He'd make sure if someone got kicked, the opponent got one back.

"He was a good player and the two of them had that winning attitude you can't teach."