Alan Judge sets sights on Premier League after long lay-off
The Dubliner, who stopped watching football for a year, is finally back in action for Brentford
Alan Judge of Brentford during the FA Cup third round match between Brentford and Notts Country at Griffin Park. Photograph: Warren Little/Getty Images
Alan Judge hopes he can help Brentford mount a big push for promotion over the second half of the season and the midfielder is intent on resuming his own twin pursuit of Premier League football and further international caps after returning from an extended injury lay-off in his club’s cup defeat by Notts County over the weekend.
“It’s funny, it sort of feels like I was never away but I was,” says the Dubliner, who has been battling to get back playing since suffering a double lower leg fracture in a league game against Ipswich back in April 2016. “I haven’t had time to think about it yet, maybe because I’ve had family over and we had a really nice evening last night [Saturday], but I will. The fact that the team lost obviously put a dampener on it but it was still a very big day for me and it’ll start to sink in over the next few days, I think.”
Judge, who feared his career might be over when a first operation to repair the damage did not completely succeed, came on for 20 minutes in the game, which Brentford lost 1-0, and now hopes to get 90 in a reserve match against Exeter on Tuesday ahead of next weekend’s league game against Bolton.
“What I need now is minutes,” says the 29 year-old. “I was held back slightly by the fact that there were no B team games over the Christmas; I was on the bench for the Villa and Wednesday matches but it was mainly because the gaffer was short of players, there was no way I was going to get on unless we were three- or four-nil up. The cup match was always the target, really, and now the aim is to push on from it.”
Limping up the aisle
The sense of relief at being back is clear in his voice as he speaks and he admits that there were times when he had doubts about whether the day would ever come.
“After the first operation it was clear very quickly that the leg wasn’t right. It’s fairly common given the seriousness of the injury – they tell you that beforehand – but when I was having the second one, I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t thinking: If this doesn’t work then that’s me done.”
He had the surgery last May, just four weeks before he married his long-term partner, Emma. “I had to cancel my stag, which doesn’t seem like such a big thing now, and was limping pretty heavily as I walked up the aisle, but I was so glad just to be able to walk up it.”
He returned to full training on October 24th, a date, he says, that is etched into his brain.
“For a year before that, August to August, I had just stopped watching football, not just our games but any. It’s not that I didn’t want to, but I just thought I’d be punishing myself, so I took the game completely out of my life.
“I barely saw the other lads at the club. You just live in a bubble of your own. But over the last few months I’ve felt it get better day by day. I’ve been flying in to tackles in training – the manager has had to tell me to calm down – but I have that confidence to tackle people and take tackles and I’m actually in better physical shape than before the injury.
“I always wanted to work on things like my leg power, but there’s no time in the Championship when the games are coming Saturday, Tuesday, Saturday ... I’ve used this time to look at every detail, and while I’ve lost a lot of time, I really believe that the work I’ve done can help prolong my career.”
The aim now, he says, is to help Brentford build on what has been a very good Christmas period in the league, and then, he hopes, to pick up where he left off with Ireland.
“We got nine points of 12, and Wolves [who they lost to], with the players they have, they’re the best team I’ve seen in the Championship in three or four years. We’re just six points off the play-offs and I think we’re coming good at just the right time. Hopefully I can make an impact on that.
“Getting more caps for Ireland is huge to me, too,” he says. “I’m convinced I would have more than the one cap by now if it hadn’t been for the injury, although I can’t know for sure, but the manager and Roy have both kept in touch, so hopefully that’s a good sign – I’ve been in their minds. I want to play a lot more for Ireland; I don’t want to be one of those players who just got one cap for his country.”
It is understandable in the circumstances that he is hoping there is nothing to the latest speculation linking Martin O’Neill to the vacancy at Stoke City created by Mark Hughes’s dismissal over the weekend.
Other Irish in the cup
Judge wasn’t the only Irish man to have a good cup weekend. Stephen Ireland also returned from his long lay-off, although Stoke’s defeat and Hughes’s dismissal will have taken even more of the shine off for him.
Elsewhere, Aiden O’Brien got two goals in Millwall’s win over Barnsley; Daryl Horgan got one and Alan Browne two for Preston as they won 5-1 at Wycombe; and 21-year-old Josh Cullen got a start for West Ham having only just returned from a successful loan spell at Bolton. Declan Rice also started the scoreless draw at Shrewsbury, in which Cullen lost two teeth after being kicked in the face by Abu Ogogo.
West Ham manager David Moyes later said Cullen was West Ham’s best player on the day, but the Irish man was not around to hear that, as he had already left for hospital to see whether the two teeth he lost in the second-half collision could be reattached.