Alan Judge: I wanted to show I wasn’t a quitter

Brentford midfielder scores winner against USA after overcoming double leg fracture

Ireland midfielder Alan Judge celebrates after scoring the winner against USA at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph:   Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

Ireland midfielder Alan Judge celebrates after scoring the winner against USA at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

 

It might have been billed as John O’Shea’s night but it is hard to imagine the former Manchester United star will remember his 118th international cap anymore fondly than Alan Judge will reflect on his fourth.

As a story, it was teed up nicely. Judge’s father Dermot, watching from the stands with a dozen other family members, won the FAI Cup at Lansdowne Road 28 years ago, and the Brentford midfielder won the biggest battle of his career just to be out there on the same pitch on Saturday night, overcoming a double leg fracture and a long list of setbacks which might well have cut his playing days short.

Getting on in the 88th minute gave him just a couple of minutes to deliver the punchline but he managed it in style when James McClean pushed the ball far enough past a defender to allow him steal in for a shot that clattered the underside of the crossbar on the way in. Judge paused a moment to be sure then took off in joyous celebration.

“This is what I’ve been waiting for, something just like that,” he said afterwards. “It’s unbelievable. I know it’s only a friendly but for someone who has been out as long as I have, it means a lot.

Setback

“The one thing I wanted to show I wasn’t a quitter. Having a setback like I had, with a second operation, you could easily throw the towel in. And there are days when you think like that but I always went home, woke up and went again. I was always in constant contact with Séamus [Coleman]; me and him went through it together. But it was literally get up, go again and see what happens.”

His return has been filled with frustration. A central figure at club level before the injury a couple of years ago, he has found it harder than he would have hoped to nail his place back down and that, in turn, has hindered his hopes of progressing with Ireland. Still, here he was celebrating scoring an international winner, with his loved ones there to watch.

“Yeah, my dad won the FAI Cup here in 1990 and I got sent a picture recently of myself, two years old and a mascot for the game. It’s crazy how things move on. He’s here tonight, they’re all upstairs, 12 of them. I’ll probably get mobbed again but I’m looking forward to spending some time with them.”

Their presence made getting on at some stage that much more precious but with just a couple of minutes left in the game when the manager finally introduced him, he didn’t dare to dream of making such an impact.

Struggling

“To be honest, I just wanted to touch the ball,” he admitted. “I didn’t want to come on and not touch it.” Instead, he scored, although barely an hour later, amid all the excitement he is struggling to recall the detail of the actual finish. “I can’t remember” he says, “but when we were celebrating James was giving out to me, saying I took it off him and I said he should have played it to me earlier. We were just messing. It was brilliant and all the work of the last two years was worth it just for that moment.”

Graham Burke, meanwhile, had a moment of his own and baulked at the notion he should have let Darragh Lenihan’s goal-bound shot proceed without interference.

“The ball,” he says with a touch of bemusement that we could even ask the question, “comes to you two yards from goal, you’ve got to get a touch on it. That’s the thinking behind it: to tap it in the back of the net.

“As Darragh hit it, I’m thinking, ‘Where’s it going to land? Is he going to hit the target? Is he not?’ Lucky enough he hit the target but it was coming directly at me feet, so I just go the final touch on it. It’s a proud moment; an unbelievable achievement to score out there.”

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