Aston Villa's Carling Cup semi-final, first leg against Blackburn Rovers is "the biggest club game of my career," says Republic of Ireland central defender Richard Dunne as Villa prepare to visit Ewood Park for Thursday's weather-delayed meeting.

Villa are in the thick of the Premier League's battle for a Champions League place, but Dunne - who has never before reached the last four of a major competition - has put that issue on hold as he looks to reach Wembley.

"Clubs and players can get their financial rewards from getting into the Champions League," said the 30-year-old defender, "but to end your career and look back and say, 'I've played at Wembley and got a winners' medal' is a memory I could keep for ever.

"This is the first time I've ever played in a semi-final and it's the biggest club game of my career. I would dearly love to get to Wembley and win the trophy, which for me would certainly mean a successful first season at Aston Villa."

Dunne has been outstanding for Martin O'Neill's team since the Villa Manager signed him during the August transfer window from Manchester City, where he had spent almost nine years following an October 2000 move from his first club Everton.

Now the experienced defender, who was a big supporters' favourite at Eastlands, could possibly face his former club at Wembley in the Final as City take on local rivals Manchester United in the other semi-final.

But Dunne refuses to contemplate that scenario as he looks ahead to Thursday's first leg at Blackburn, against whom Villa are favourites to progress as they sit seven places higher in the table and have already beaten them 3-1 in the FA Cup.

Dunne was one of several players rested by O'Neill for that third round tie at Villa Park, where Blackburn boss Sam Allardyce also left out key men in order to concentrate more fully on the Carling Cup tie.

Dunne said: "Although we beat Blackburn in the FA Cup we lost 2-1 to them at Ewood Park earlier in the season. This time it will be tight and cautious because neither side wants to be out of the game after the first leg.

"They will be direct and we know how difficult they'll be. They've got a lot of players who are strong in the air and very difficult to mark, so we'll have to be on our toes throughout and be prepared for anything.

"Obviously I would like to think we can get to Wembley, but if we get through then for me it wouldn't be important whether we meet Manchester City or Manchester United. My focus is on Aston Villa and beating whoever we come up against."

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