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Wednesday 18 October 2017

Judge plans on buzzing about

Bees man rates himself '50-50' for Euros but has long-term Ireland plan

Republic of Ireland’s Alan Judge during squad training at the National Sports Campus in Abbotstown. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile
Republic of Ireland’s Alan Judge during squad training at the National Sports Campus in Abbotstown. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile

If he was to draw comfort from the number of times he's been name-checked by Martin O'Neill, then Brentford man Alan Judge would be already planning to spend next summer in France as part of the Ireland squad.

As things stand however, the Dubliner has yet to perform in his big audition to become an Ireland player now, at the age of 27, Judge admitting that he has only a "50-50" chance of making it into the Euro 2016 squad.

It's taken him time to get to this level in his career: while he was at Blackburn Rovers, he doubted he was good enough to play in the Premier League and took on board the harsh message from then-manager Sam Allardyce that Judge wasn't going to play under him.

Premier League football is bound to come his way - there was an offer from a top-flight club when Judge was almost on his way out of Brentford in January and, with talks on a contract extension stalled, he makes it clear that he will be on the move in the summer.

But international ambitions loom large and for Judge, it's a case of step-by-step: first call-up to the squad, first time to get a place on the bench and on Friday, hopefully, a first cap against Switzerland.

"I seem to be getting closer each time. I made the bench last time [against Bosnia] so we'll see what happens. It will be great if it happens," says Judge, trying to strike a balance between being eager and over-keen.

"The manager has said when players do get a chance, not to go out there trying to do things you wouldn't usually do. He goes a lot on how you're doing at your club and I'm doing okay at Brentford myself. If I do get the chance, I'll try play my normal game.

Pressure

"I'd say my chances (for the Euros) are maybe 50/50. You want to do well in these friendlies coming up but you want to do what you normally do. You don't want to get drawn into the pressure of playing well. I'm hoping maybe the manager will already have in his mind what players have done at club level. That can help them."

Judge has been promised a start in one of the two international games over the next week, both at home and a run-out on the turf on Lansdowne Road would mean a lot to him, to win his first cap on the same spot where his dad - former Bray Wanderers man Dermot - made history 26 years ago, captaining Bray to an FAI Cup final win.

"It would be nice," he smiles. "My dad played there in Lansdowne in 1990, the FAI Cup, he won it there so it would be nice to finally get on the pitch if I can do it there. It was the peak of his career, he was the first captain to lift it there, that's a nice thing to have and I would be proud to get on the pitch, I was only two at the time, I was the mascot, I was in the photos, I have seen the photos and it's nice to have that memory."

Judge has won his place in the squad on the back of a stunning season with a struggling Brentford side, with Bees coach (and their caretaker manager for a spell) Lee Carsley very much in the Judge For Ireland camp.

But like so many members of the current squad, Judge had had to do it the hard way. A product of St Joseph's Boys, he never had to come back home to play club football in Ireland (as Eunan O'Kane did with Coleraine) but he had to toughen himself up in the lower leagues after he stumbled at Premier League side Blackburn. With two cup appearances for Blackburn on his CV as a teenager, he was sent down to the Championship, on loan to Plymouth.,

"I just came back from a loan deal at Plymouth and I hadn't done my best, it was my second year there. Sam Allardyce was straight up with me, he told me I wouldn't really play there because of the way he played football and I appreciated that he told me out straight that I wasn't his type of player," Judge reflects.

"I wasn't ready to play in the Premier League at the time and it was good to go down to League One, get kicked around by a few six-foot-six centre halves.

"You just bide your time, I have been told that good things come to those who wait, I just had to wait a bit longer. Not everything gets handed to you, you have to work hard and keep digging, I feel I have done that and I am starting to see the rewards."

Good form against the Swiss and the Slovaks will help with Ireland, but no matter what he expects to leave Brentford. "I have another year left but I think most likely I will be moving in the summer, the contract hasn't been renegotiated and they haven't come to me, so it looks like I will be moving in the summer," says Judge., the subject of bids (reportedly £7m) from Burnley and Sheffield Wednesday. in the last window.

"I don't want to get ahead of myself. I just want to keep doing what I'm doing, do what I can do for Brentford."

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