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It has been a turbulent period for Aston Villa FC after last week's resignation of manager Martin O'Neill, but defender Richard Dunne is hoping a new era can begin on a positive note with victory against SK Rapid Wien in the UEFA Europa League play-offs. Villa were knocked out by the Austrian side at this stage last season, just before Dunne's arrival from Manchester City FC, and the 30-year-old Irish international is convinced Villa can make amends.
UEFA.com: Villa kick off their UEFA Europa League campaign in Vienna on Thursday. Is there a sense of deja vu?
Richard Dunne: I've spoken to the lads and they said it was a difficult game [last year]. Rapid played really nice football and obviously they knocked us out. So it is a good chance for us to go and put that record straight, and hopefully get ourselves into the group stage and keep involved in Europe until after Christmas.
The lads were disappointed not to get into the group stage last year, so regardless of who we played that was the aim for this season. The fact it's Rapid Vienna again is a good opportunity to show them how good we are.
UEFA.com: Given Villa's pedigree in Europe, how important is it for the club and fans to have a good European run?
Dunne: Last season the cup runs – the FA Cup and the League Cup – were really good but the European nights are something different, something a bit more special. So I think for the fans definitely, to be able to travel around Europe and see different cities and stuff, it's a good experience for them and it is great for the players to play on big European nights.
UEFA.com: How big a blow is the manager leaving?
Dunne: Yes, it's difficult, a few days before the season starts. But these things happen in football. It's never ideal when a manager leaves, regardless of the timing. But you can't really worry about it as a footballer – you get paid to do your job, and regardless of who's in charge you still have to go out and perform. I think that's the professional side of the game – the players play football and that's all we worry about. The manager and chairman look after the running of the club.
UEFA.com: Last season was one of your best and you earned a place in the Professional Footballers' Association Team of the Year. Did you feel you had a point to prove after leaving Manchester City for Villa?
Dunne: Not a point to prove. I just wanted to go and do a job for the club. It was a new team, and when you move to a new team you want to impress, first and foremost the manager and the fans. Thankfully the dressing room was full of really good lads and I settled in quickly and really enjoyed my football.
UEFA.com: You were soon being compared to another Aston Villa favourite, Paul McGrath. How did that feel?
Dunne: It was really nice.
Paul McGrath was one of my heroes growing up, and to be compared to him is something any player would be proud of.
UEFA.com: What would success be for Villa this season?
Dunne: Last year was quite successful. We came close to getting fourth position and we got to a semi-final and a final. If we can build on that ... The aim for every team in England is to get in the top four. We know it is going to be very difficult, with the spending power that Man City have, and obviously Liverpool we'd imagine to improve. And Everton will be strong again so it will be a close battle. We just need maybe to strengthen the squad a little bit over the next couple of weeks.
We are not one of the fancied teams who people think will challenge for the top four. But if we're getting the right players in, we've got the opportunity. The experience that the cup runs gave us last year will hopefully hold us in good stead this season. And obviously we've got the added bonus of being in Europe, so it's another season for the fans and the club to be optimistic about.
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