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Dublin: 18 °C Saturday 8 August, 2020

'I’ve waited for so long for something like that, to be involved in something important'

Alan Judge talks to The42 about his critical cameo against Denmark, and battling back from another injury.

SPORT VIVIFIES THE humdrum abstractions of our lives, and to see Alan Judge leap and holler wildly after he whipped in the free-kick from which Ireland equalised against Denmark was to see the virtue of patience. 

To see him crumpled on the turf a few minutes later was to see why he needs it. 

Alan Judge down injured Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“I was told after that it was my first competitive game, I couldn’t believe it”, he tells The42

“You just think, ‘Goal, we’re back in it.’ That really hurt the Danish team, I don’t think they expected us to get a goal back.

“Then you’re thinking, ‘Did that just really happen?’ as I’ve waited for so long for something like that, to be involved in something important.” 

With his career with Championship side Brentford on an upward curve, Judge made his international debut in a March 2016 friendly against Switzerland. Then, with a place in the Euro 2016 squad looking probable, Mick McCarthy was among those looking on in horror as he broke his leg in three places in the opening minutes of a Championship clash with Ipswich. 

He missed the Euros, a possible transfer to the Premier League…and almost two years of his career.

612 days, to be precise.

He couldn’t get out of bed for six weeks, with the pain of blood rushing through his leg unbearable. Just how long the rehab would take hit home when his physio asked him to scrunch his toes together.

Judge was exhausted within minutes. 

When he did finally return to training almost a year after the inury, something wasn’t quite right. Scans showed one of the bones hadn’t properly fused together, so he had to go back under the knife. 

Back he came, and Judge made another four friendly appearances for Ireland in 2018, the highlight being his nation’s only winning goal of the year, coming in the dying minutes against the United States. 

Then, with Ireland seeking to make more of an attacking impression in Copenhagen earlier this month, McCarthy sprung him from the bench to finally gave him his competitive debut.

Having had enough of putting up with time, Judge was in no mood to fritter away much more of it.

Less than 20 minutes later, he won a free-kick, guided it onto Shane Duffy’s forehead and Ireland had hauled a point from the fire. 

“I do a thousand of them over a year”, reflects Judge, “and when you have someone like Duffy who will head anything that moves, you’ve got a great chance of scoring. You get a decent ball into Duffy and he’ll put it in the net more times than not.

“Shane put the ball in the net, really, so it’s he who really deserves all the credit.

“I like to keep myself to myself and get on with things.” 

When the full-time whistle sounded, Judge was slowly spotted through the haze of the Irish celebrations. He lay motionless on the pitch in front of the Irish fans, surrounded by the Irish medical staff. 

“We had a bit of spell down the right-hand side, Jeff [Hendrick] put a ball down the side and I went for it.

“Maybe, the last ten seconds, I probably should have held my position. But I went for the ball, got there before him [Kasper Dolberg] and he nudged me. I don’t think there was anything in it – he just nudged me, and that happens all the time in games.

“But the minute I fell – I could hear the crack in my arm. I knew straight away.” 

Ireland players look on as Alan Judge receives treatment Irish players gather around Judge after the game. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

What was going through his head? 

“‘Jesus, not again.’

“I knew it wasn’t going to be that bad and that it would only be a few weeks but after playing the few minutes I had, and having got myself on the pitch, already I was thinking, ‘Gee, I could have a chance of starting on Monday.’”

Judge’s arm had broken, and thus the celebrations between Irish players and fans stretched out, as the players refused to leave without him. 

I looked at it afterward – right in front of everyone, with everyone waiting for me. I just really wanted to get up and get off the pitch and get away. I wanted to get myself together and keep myself to myself.

“But I was clapped off by everyone, which was great. And that everyone waited for me, I think it shows just how much of a team we are.” 

McCarthy lamented after the game that if Judge hadn’t bad luck, he would have no luck at all.

Judge, however, takes a different view. 

“People say I’ve had no luck. I’ve had two injuries in my career, this is the second.

I had one big one which kept me out for two years and everyone says that I’ve had injury after injury. I’ve had two injuries. It just seems to happen that I break bones. It’s a six weeker, and you could pull your hamstring and be out for six weeks. Obviously, you feel hard done by, but there’s no point sitting around moping about it because you’ll get nowhere.

“Had I done that the first time I wouldn’t have got close to playing against Denmark.” 

Less than two days after breaking his arm, Judge served as a groomsman at his cousin’s wedding.

With much foostering about he managed to get his arm through his suit, and having endured the pain until after dinner, he retired to his room ahead of his Monday morning surgery.

He saw parts of the Gibraltar game that evening, drifting in and out as he was still groggy from the earlier medication.

“I know everyone wants to see good, attacking football,” says Judge in response to what was a craggy, unadventurous 2-0 win, “but you have 11 men sitting behind the ball giving you no space at all. It’s not as easy as it looks.”

Alan Judge celebrates scoring a late goal Judge celebrates his winner against the United States. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Ireland have 10 points from 12, but Judge acknowledges there are stiffer tests to come. The first of those will be against the side Judge made his debut against – Switzerland. 

Although he has now dropped into League One with Ipswich, he believes it shouldn’t disbar him from a reunion with the Swiss. 

“If I get my arm healthy, then I’ll kick on. I have to perform. As long as I’m performing it doesn’t matter if I’m playing in the Championship or League One.

“Especially under Mick – I know he likes me as a player, he tried to sign me a few times, which is a good thing.

“He showed faith in me to put me on in the Denmark game, and a lot of people would have thought to put others on.” 

Having taken 10 days off, Judge is back doing what work he can in the gym, and while he may miss the first couple of pre-season games, he expects to be fit to start the season. 

Is he in any way daunted by the thought of another comeback? 

“Ah no, I’ve had a lot worse in my career. This is nothing.” 

And the fact was denied a place at Euro 2016 – does that offer some motivation for this latest recovery? 

“Of course.

“I have to make up for a lot of lost time.” 

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Gavin Cooney

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