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Friday 2 December 2016

'To be in Ireland panel is an honour' says Brentford midfielder Alan Judge

Alan Judge
Alan Judge

ON A DAY when a player from Aston Villa greeted Ireland's call with a shudder and then refused to answer, the reaction from another Irishman to a summons from Martin O'Neill was, shall we say a bit different.

Five years after he last wore the green jersey, in an U21 international, Alan Judge is back in the frame with his country.

Years of beavering away in the lower leagues has finally borne fruit for the 26-year-old Brentford player as he was yesterday called into the senior squad for the first time, along with Aberdeen's Adam Rooney.

The first indication that something was up for Judge came on the drive home from training at Brentford yesterday, when his phone began hopping with messages of good will, by then the news of his call-up for the England/Scotland games public knowledge. "I haven't heard anything official yet and it probably won't sink in until I see it on a bit of paper from the FAI," a delighted Judge told The Herald.

"But it's brilliant just to get the call. I don't know if I will get to play in any of the games, I don't know if I will even be in the final squad when the provisional squad is cut down, but even to be in the panel is an honour."

He's been so long out of the picture at international level that Judge will have to get used to the formalities and paperwork all over again, though for now the messages - one of the first texts of congratulations was from his former U21 team pal Seamus Coleman.

Judge's call-up now, at the age of 26, shows that patience is a key virtue for Irish footballers and with so many players from outside England's top division - 15 of the 33 chosen by O'Neill play for Championship clubs - it's also a sign now that England's second tier can be an open door to international football.

"I was never worried about the Ireland side of things," says Judge, who initially made the breakthrough at Blackburn Rovers but found his feet at Notts County - where he was nicknamed the Irish Messi - and then moved to Brentford, the Bees still in with a chance of promotion to the Premier League.

"I just concentrated on my club form and hoped that the manager would see something he liked, and thankfully he has seen something in me to call me up.

"I never gave up hope, playing my country meant so much to me, in every game I had for Ireland going back to the schoolboy days, and the chance to represent my country at senior level was something I always wanted, and I never stopped believing it could happen for me," he says.

HOPE

For players like Judge, the emergence of Keith Andrews, who made his international debut aged 28, fostered hope and now at 26, Judge has his foot in the door. "It happened for Keith, and if you work hard, good things can come for you," Judge says.

While a lot of his mates in football are already on their holidays, Judge has items on the agenda with club as well as country, as Brentford play Middlesbrough on Friday in the second leg of their playoff semi-final.

"I will have to put the Ireland stuff to one side for the rest of the week and focus on Friday," he says.

"We have a bit to do as we're 2-1 down from the first leg, but hopefully we can do what's needed on Friday and make sure that we have one more game at the club this season, a trip to Wembley for the final.

"It's been a good season for me already but it could be an amazing finish.

"We have a chance of making it to Wembley and then into the Premier League and I have a chance of an Ireland cap.

"Just getting picked by the Ireland manager for the squad has already capped off the season for me, I just hope I can do one or two more things before the season ends," added Judge.

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