Farewell Sergeant Chey Dunkley – the right man at the wrong time for Sheffield Wednesday

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In another time, under different circumstances, he could have been something of an icon at Sheffield Wednesday.

But Chey Dunkley leaves the club on a free transfer and a cloud of ‘what if?’ hanging over a two-year stay with the Owls that yielded only 36 senior appearances.

His was a signing pretty much unanimously well received by Wednesdayites way back in the summer of 2020. He arrived with an broken leg and suffered setback after setback, pushback after pushback of an expected return time even before he’d kicked a ball in blue and white.

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Chey Dunkley played in only 36 senior matches for Sheffield Wednesday across two up-and-down seasons.Chey Dunkley played in only 36 senior matches for Sheffield Wednesday across two up-and-down seasons.
Chey Dunkley played in only 36 senior matches for Sheffield Wednesday across two up-and-down seasons.

When he eventually made his Owls debut 121 days after his signing was announced, he was a breath of fresh air; assertive, strong in the air and vocal, everything Wednesday had been lacking for a season or two before.

In and around further injuries that dogged his two-year spell with the club, these were the characteristics that stood out.

At times his heading stats were so dominant it became the stuff of meme. Harlee Dean, a player whose reputation as a Championship centre-half has been built on heading bricks, averaged 5.9 successful aerial duels per match – the second-highest figure in the squad ahead of Jordan Storey’s 5.4. Dunkley average 7.2.

What repeat injuries meant he was unable to offer in terms of a sustained on-field impact at Wednesday he made up for around Middlewood Road. Dunkley is, or was, a popular member of the changing room, hell-bent on driving high standards in terms of behaviour and attitude.

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It is understood that his loud, uncompromising approach in training may have rubbed up one or two senior players a little in his early days, but that his attitude had a hugely positive impact on a club that had allowed its standards to dip a touch over previous seasons. If there were figures to win over, he did just that.

Tony Pulis won’t be remembered around Sheffield Wednesday with much more than a shudder, but his CV shows knows a thing or two about footballers. When he proclaimed “I wish I could have nine of him” when asked about Dunkley, it showed the sort of character Wednesday had on board.

The inference was crystal; more footballers of Dunkley’s outlook would have given the Owls a better chance of survival in that torrid Championship season.

In an ideal world, Darren Moore wants his defenders to be able to play out from the back with something of a swagger, an ideal Dunkley didn’t always seem to be all that comfortable with. Not that he was the only one. Beyond injuries, this may have been a factor in his release at the age of 30.

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Circumstances were cruel, but nobody could question his passion or desire. In a parallel universe, with injury setbacks eased, who knows what could have become of Chey Dunkley and Sheffield Wednesday?

Like supporters of Oxford and Wigan before them, the vast majority of Wednesday fans will no doubt wish Dunkley all the best with whatever comes next. That tells its own tale.

In many ways he was the right man for a club that was in turmoil when he arrived. Unfortunately for both parties, he was just there at the wrong time.