Judge has World Cup target on road to recovery
His ticket to France for Euro 2016 was cruelly snatched out of his hand by injury, but for Alan Judge, a trip to Russia for the 2018 World Cup finals is very much on the agenda.
Sidelined since April due to a leg break which he sustained while on club duty with Brentford, Judge admits that it's been a rough seven months and he's still unable to set a realistic timescale on his return to fitness, though when pushed he admits he'd hope to be kicking a ball in anger again by February.
That would give the 27-year-old the chance to get in a string of games for his club and work his way back into the Ireland squad in time for the key home date with Wales in March, adding more caps a key aim for Dubliner Judge.
"I have seen all the Ireland games since I have been out and everyone in the set-up has been good to me. The doctor and the fitness trainer, Roy, Martin and Seamus, I spoke to Martin two or three times and it's good that I am in their thoughts, hopefully that will have me in good stead for when I am back fit," Judge told The Herald.
"I had it in the palm of my hand and it was snatched away in a split second but I am still thinking about it all.
"Nearly everyone who went to France got to play in the finals, and I genuinely felt I would have made the squad, I was playing well and scoring goals when the injury happened.
"I think I'd have been in the 23 and hopefully even played, but things happen for a reason, hopefully with this injury I will prolong my career and there are plenty of years left for me to get more caps, if I can get back into the squad and play a part in the rest of the campaign, it would be amazing to help out as the lads try to get to Russia," he added.
He's come through a recent setback in his recovery and is now progressing well, a big deal for Judge in the last few days when he was given permission by the club's medical staff to leave the stuffy confines of the gym and do some work outdoors.
Never has fresh air felt so good for the midfielder, whose world came crashing in with an horrific leg break against Ipswich Town in April, and Judge is confident he will come back fitter and faster than ever.
"I am in better physical shape than I was when I got injured," he admits.
"In the Championship you seem to play Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday all the time and you never get the chance to work on the physical side of things, I had wanted to get stronger and quicker and I am now doing the work in the gym that will allow me to do that. When I get back I'd hope to be quicker because I am doing work now that I never got to do before."
Early April was when Judge's world fell apart in that game against Ipswich, and he's been through a lot of pain since then, but there was a chink of light in recent days.
"I trained outdoors for the first time last week, light running. It's a case of doing little but often at this stage and it feels good, I have a little bit of a limp as the power is not yet fully back in my ankle but it's good to get outside," he admits.
"I am spending most of my time in the gym, building up my leg and that's going well.
"It's about tolerance, if you feel you are doing well then you progress to the next phase so I am taking it bit by bit, I haven't set a time for when I will be back, it's a case of step by step and if I wake up the next day not feeling sore, I know I have had a good day.
"I am a good bit away from doing contact work, I was kicking a ball a little bit in the gym but nothing too strenuous. The problem isn't so much with the break, it's the ligaments around it as they shut down, they were ripped apart by the break so they are rebuilding. The bone has healed from the break, it's the tendons around it that I have to work on. In the next month I'd hope to get back to some level of training with the lads, the club here have looked after me really well."
Initial progress had raised hopes of a quick return but Judge was slowed down. "At the start I had a good four months and when it came to September I was feeling really good," he says.
"But I had the screws taken out and that set me back, I had to take five weeks to rest and let it heal up again, the screws needed to come out so the bone could heal, it was six weeks of doing nothing but I am making progress again and running outside is great. When you are told you can go outside for a jog, that's a great feeling.
"I can't set a real target for getting back but at a push I'd say early February. The surgeon said when I first met him that the aim would be to get back within a year, it was a double break so it was going to be a long time."
Judge admits he's a frustrated spectator with his club. "I go to the home games when I'm able, but sometimes I just can't go, I am so used to playing that I miss it so much when I am watching," he says, but he has been eagerly observing the national team.
"The World Cup campaign has gone really well," says Judge.
"I hear people saying the team aren't playing well but they are getting the results and that's all that counts. We're joint top with three games gone, how can anyone complain about that? We have taken points away from home and we are definitely not an easy team to beat. We will go to Vienna now full of confidence as the lads have showed they can get results, especially away."