Alan Judge begins long journey back with Euros dream shattered
Dubliner determined to rebuild club and international career one step at a time
His doctors remain reluctant to predict a date for his return, and Alan Judge dares not for fear that he might not make it, but the 27-year-old Dubliner is determined to battle his way back from the terrible injury he suffered at Ipswich a couple of weeks ago and rebuild both his club and international careers.
The sense of devastation in his voice is clear as he talks about the Luke Hyam tackle that broke both of the bones in his lower right leg and all that it may have cost him. There is a determination too, however, that having waited so long to persuade the wider world that he can play at the highest level, he is not going to have it all taken away from him because of another player’s moment of madness.
“I don’t know whether it was a good or a bad challenge,” he says, “but I want people to know that I know Luke didn’t set out to break my leg. He was in touch afterwards and I told him that.”
Hyam’s motives, though, are somewhat beside the point. Judge was in with a firm shout of a place in the Ireland squad for Euro 2016 and on course beyond that to be playing Premier League next season. All of that changed three minutes after kick-off at Portman Road last Saturday week.
‘Pure pressure’“The minute it happened,” he says, “I knew the leg was broken. I couldn’t describe the pain; just pure pressure. I wouldn’t wish it on anybody. I looked down at the other one and there was blood all over my left knee where he’d made the initial contact. It was strange. I didn’t quite understand. There was all this blood on my left knee but I knew from the pain that it was my right leg that was broken. I knew that before they told me.
“Afterwards, everybody was saying that I was lucky, that I had a clean break and I didn’t know what they meant. But since then I’ve spoken to another player, Michael Woods, and he explained that he had broken his leg but also dislocated his ankle, and that’s worse.”
Still, he knew it was bad and even as he lay on the ground and the medics attended to him, he was acutely aware, he says, of the greater implications. “It wasn’t football that went through my head, it was my family. I had this feeling that their future had been taken away from them.
“As the days go by, though, you start to calm down and you realise that your career’s not over. It’s a setback but one that you have to come back from. The move’s gone for now but I’ll get it back.”
Asked if he thought he would have made it to France, he says he reckons it was “about 50-50” but the move to a Premier League club looked a near certainty. “Nothing was done but I knew the sort of clubs that were interested in me. There was nothing sorted but I knew that I had options.”
PlateNow, there is only one: to get fit again. The fact that the ankle is uninjured is some comfort, but having broken both his tibia and fibula, Judge had an operation two days after the game to insert a plate into the larger of the two bones. “The surgeon was very happy and I’m pretty happy,” he says. “I don’t have a brace or a cast or anything on it. It’s unbelievable but that’s the way these things have gone these days. I can feel the progression, day by day.
“Nobody’s really put a time on it but generally they say it’s between six and nine months for a broken leg. I’m hoping that it will be the six but I don’t want to set any goals, I’ll go month to month with it because if I set a target like six months and it didn’t happen then I’d only feel more upset about it.”
He is clearly grateful to have his family – girlfriend Emma, two young kids, Emily and Jackson, as well as his parents and sisters, who have been taking it in turns to come over from Dublin – around him. Martin O’Neill, Roy Keane, other members of the Irish set-up and just about everyone, he reckons, from Brentford has been in touch to wish him well. “I’m lucky,” he says, and not for the first time.
“Hopefully it will happen for me again, I’ll still get the move at some stage but I don’t want to be disrespectful. My focus now is on getting back playing for Brentford – they’ve been looking after me very well.”
In the meantime, he intends doing some online courses for when his playing days are done, a stage of life he now appreciates could start any time.
“That’s football,” he says. “It gives you everything but it can take it all away too.”