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Jury is out as Judge wary of return to play

Ipswich man finds it difficult to see how football can resume in current situation

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IN CONTROL: Alan Judge in action for Ireland during the International Friendly match against Bulgaria at the Aviva Stadium last September. Pic: Sportsfile.

IN CONTROL: Alan Judge in action for Ireland during the International Friendly match against Bulgaria at the Aviva Stadium last September. Pic: Sportsfile.

SPORTSFILE

IN CONTROL: Alan Judge in action for Ireland during the International Friendly match against Bulgaria at the Aviva Stadium last September. Pic: Sportsfile.

It seems an awful lot longer than just two months ago when the tasks ahead seemed simpler for a footballer like Alan Judge - stay in the team with his club, get into the Ireland squad, get Ireland to the finals of Euro 2020.

But football, like life, has been turned upside down in the last eight weeks. The 31-year-old retains the same aims, getting fit after injury disrupted his season and wearing the green shirt again.

"I'm only 31, I have lots of football left in me," says Judge, who suffered a broken arm while on Ireland duty in Denmark last year and then had a stress fracture in his foot back in March, and is still two weeks away from full fitness.

Yet the Ipswich Town player admits that the last two months, along with the non-stop chatter about when the Premier League can return, have forced football to examine itself.

And the Ireland international stresses that footballers cannot be forced to return to the field of play if they have real concerns about the safety of their families as well as themselves.

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INJURY BLOW: Alan Judge attended to by Ireland team doctor Alan Byrne during the Euro 2020 qualifier against Denmark in Copenhagen last June. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

INJURY BLOW: Alan Judge attended to by Ireland team doctor Alan Byrne during the Euro 2020 qualifier against Denmark in Copenhagen last June. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

INJURY BLOW: Alan Judge attended to by Ireland team doctor Alan Byrne during the Euro 2020 qualifier against Denmark in Copenhagen last June. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

"We all have families, we all have concerns," says Judge, admitting that his initial hopes of a resumption of League One action with Ipswich this season may not come to pass.

Any cost

"If players don't feel 100% right in their minds about playing, that has to be taken into account. Players want to get back playing but not at any cost. I can't see how you can have social distancing and football at the same time, unless the authorities have a way around that.

"We are all very keen to get back. But what if I go out to play, come into contact with a player who has the virus, I bring that home and make my wife or my kid sick? That's playing on all of our minds, it's hard to know what's right and I think we'll know a lot more once the Bundesliga gets back.

"Every player I know wants to get back playing, no player wants to spend eight or ten weeks sitting at home. But no player could live with it if they got infected in a game and took that into their home."

A stalled move to Newcastle United in 2016 denied him the chance of a Premier League move so Judge (31) has never played in England's top flight and he clearly understands the gap between the elite and the rest, with clubs like his hugely reliant on matchday revenue.

Ipswich Town had 18,500 paying punters at their last game before coronavirus caused a lockdown, and it could be a long time before that number of people are allowed back into a stadium of that size again.

"I don't know how they can provide safety for players. You hear the figures of what it will cost to test the Premier League players. Clubs in League One and League Two don't have that sort of money," says Judge, fortunate to be under contract with the club for another full season after this stalled one.

"The Premier League is the main focus. If they get back, the money could filter down to help the clubs in the lower leagues, as they need help to stay afloat.

"But safety has to be looked after. You can't have a case where one player gets sick and everything is halted. They have to be 100% sure that going back is the right thing to do.I don't know the cost of testing players a couple of times a week but you see the figures in the media and it's scary.

"Clubs in League One don't have that money, never mind League Two. The Premier League is the main one to get back but player safety has to be paramount, there's no point in going back if even one player gets sick."

Judge admits to his relief at having the security of a full season on his contract with Ipswich. A lot of friends and former team-mates will be effectively out of work when their standard contracts run out at the end of next month and he streuggles to see a return to action in the lower leagues.

Cancelled

"I was very optimistic a few weeks ago but as time goes on, I fear the league will be cancelled. The longer it goes the harder it will be.

"At the start I felt it had to be completed, to be fair to the teams at the bottom and the top. Now, I can't see how you can do that unless you can have the virus fully under control and no one can guarantee that," he says.

The lack of action has allowed Judge focus on his recovery from the stress fracture he sustained in March, awful timing back then.

"Mick was due to name his squad for the Slovakia game that week. I rang Mick the day it happened to let him know, as I knew the squad was due out, but then it was overtaken by coronavirus and everything stopped," Judge says.

"Who knows what would have happened but I felt I had been really part of this campaign with Ireland. I know I didn't always start but I was one of those who the manager turned to when he was making a substitution so I felt I'd made an impact when I was used and I loved the experience.

"Hopefully I'll get that again in the future and play a role, maybe play in the Euros if we get there. I imagine Stephen Kenny will be in touch. If he chooses to do things his own way that's fair enough but I'd like to play a part.

"I have watched the U21s and I like the way he has that team playing, hopefully I can get to play for him."