Upbeat Judge determined to grasp his second chance
Ipswich midfielder relishing call-up for the Republic following his injury nightmare
Alan Judge: “I’m only 30. I had two years out, I feel like I’m 28 now, so I feel like I’m in my prime now. For me, it’s just enjoying every minute of it.” Photograph: Hannah Fountain/CamerSport via Getty Images
It sometimes seems as though Alan Judge has had so much to contend with these past few years, it would fill a dozen careers.
But the Dubliner was more upbeat than for a few years as the Irish squad headed for Gibraltar on Thursday, conscious of just how much the first real injury he suffered has cost but grateful, he says, to be getting a second chance.
It is almost three years now since Luke Hyam broke the Irish midfielder’s leg with a really bad challenge and Judge’s long road back to fitness included more than its share of setbacks.
“Probably at times when I was injured I was coming home and trying to put on a happy face for the kids,” he recalls now.
“There’d be times if I didn’t have a great day at training I’d be coming home and I’d just stop off about 200 yards down the road from the house to have 10 minutes to myself because I never wanted to bring that home to the kids. I didn’t want them to see that.”
The injury was a huge setback at a time his career seemed set for a new level. But in his absence, there was a tactical shift at Brentford which, he suggests, made his importance less central.
He had been a number 10, an outstanding one in Championship terms, but he was out a long time and, he says; “now they play 3-4-3, they don’t really play with number 10s”.
The player around whom a good side was built around was suddenly seen as someone who the club struggled to accommodate.
There was a touch of ‘catch 22’ about that, he feels however, with the manager not giving him enough minutes to get back to his best and him not able to get back to producing his best without game time. In the end, he says, he decided to leave because he so desperately wanted to play football.
Ipswich have been better with him in the side but not good enough, it appears, to save themselves from relegation. That, though, is for another day. For the moment he is just happy to be back with Ireland.
“If you asked me about this in October time or November time, I’d have said ‘there’s no chance’. Even after the US game – I hadn’t originally been in the squad but I scored and I thought, ‘that’ll do me’. I thought that if that was me finished with Ireland, then it was a good way to end it for me.
“Everything I’d worked so hard for, to score for Ireland...it was just relief. It meant everything. My family was there and they were even more happy for me than I was, really. When I went up to the room afterwards, dad was in bits, my ma was in bits.”
He has only had a minute or two since, against Poland, but Mick McCarthy, he says, has paid close attention to the final stages of his return to full fitness at Ipswich and he is hopeful that he has plenty left to give to the cause over the coming years.
“I look at Wes; he didn’t come into the Ireland team until he was a bit later on in his career. I’m only 30. I had two years out, I feel like I’m 28 now, so I feel like I’m in my prime now.
“For me, it’s just enjoying every minute of it. I know I’ve maybe missed my chance to go to the Premier League but it’s about taking every minute you can on the pitch.
“Confidence. Confidence is everything. Confidence is key for a player. You get it from your manager, you get it from team-mates. I felt like I deserved this with the way I was playing to be honest.”
If character was everything, he would deserve it for the way he came through the two years he wasn’t playing.