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Life with Ireland begins at 30 for Judge after long lay-off

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Ireland midfielder Alan Judge. Photo: Sportsfile

Ireland midfielder Alan Judge. Photo: Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Will Keane. Photo: Getty

Will Keane. Photo: Getty

Getty Images

Ireland midfielder Alan Judge. Photo: Sportsfile

To find yourself only starting your international career at the age of 30, for reasons beyond your control, can be a head-wrecker.

But as he plans for a new beginning under a new manager, Alan Judge insists he's not bitter about the turn of events which leaves him very much a rookie when he should be a key member of the Ireland squad.

Ipswich Town player Judge is one of the best attacking outlets in the Irish midfield for the two Euro 2020 qualifiers, starting tomorrow in Gibraltar, where an appearance would mean a competitive debut for the Dubliner.

He has even picked out a role model, in the form of Wes Hoolahan, a player who only came to the fore on the international stage at the twilight of his career.

"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," says Judge.

"For me it's just enjoying every minute of it. I know I've maybe missed my chance to go to the Prem but it's about taking every minute you can on the pitch. I always do that when I play."

For Judge, it all comes back to one incident in April 2016. At the time, it was all going his way: he'd just made his Ireland debut under Martin O'Neill, he was almost certain to earn a place in the squad for the Euro 2016 finals, and a move to the Premier League, which had fallen through in January, was likely to be revived in the summer.

But eight minutes into a bog-standard Championship game between his Brentford side and Ipswich, his world came crashing down, Judge suffering a leg break which would effectively deny him two years of football. And the Euros. And the Premier League.

"I knew I was going to the Premier League and I got the injury three or four days before it. I'd made my debut for Ireland and two seconds in, it happens," he says.

"I felt like I had a chance of going to the Euros. I'd plenty of assists that year and I felt I was in a decent position and I was going to go, but look, that's what happens.

"Maybe I got a little bit bitter as time went on. My Premier League dream went and I wasn't even playing in the Championship.

"Now I'm back playing, it's gone, it's behind me, completely behind me."

Judge has had tough times since then and even a move to Ipswich Town has not gone to plan. He has been able to get games but his club are at the wrong end of the table and are heading for the third tier of the English game.

But Mick McCarthy has always been a fan of Judge and he has earned his place in the squad this week.

"I spoke to Mick when I went to Ipswich and he said, 'Look, I'll be keeping an eye on you'," Judge says. "He's seen me play probably two or three times for Brentford and he said, 'Look, you're a little bit off at the moment'.

"That's the thing I like about Mick, he's honest. I wish I did get to play with him a bit before. He did try to sign me three or four times.

"Mick has been at about two or three games, Terry Connor has been, I think they've seen me in every league game, so they've been keeping an eye on me.

"I know they're interested in Will Keane, they've been keeping an eye on him. So thankfully I've been performing well. I'm the fittest I've been for a while.

"I always knew I was fit, I just needed games. I've gone out and got them and my sharpness got better with every game.

"All I feel like I'm missing is a goal fr om getting back to where I was before I got injured. Mick's been to watch me and I think he's seen as well that I'm not far off. As he said, just a goal is what I'm missing.

"I had two years of not playing, then had a year sitting on the bench thinking if, what and whatever. So just to go out and play is a massive relief."


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