Alan Judge makes his long-awaited return for Ireland in last year's friendly against Turkey. Ryan Byrne/INPHO
Battling Back

'People say I can’t keep fit but I’ve had one injury' - Alan Judge out to prove doubters wrong

The Dubliner has left Brentford for a relegation scrap at Ipswich but as he tells The42, he couldn’t be happier.

IT IS EVERY footballer’s battle not to have a long and nuanced career reduced to a couple of isolated moments, and Alan Judge has signed a contract with Ipswich Town to win his.

On 9 April 2016, a fortnight after making his Irish debut, Judge’s leg was snapped in two places against his new side. To that point, he had been one of the best players in the Championship; his record of 14 goals and 11 assists in 38 games had Brentford dreaming of a tilt at the Premier League and triggered speculation that Judge would be heading that way, with or without them.

He looked odds-on of a spot at Euro 2016, too.

Then Luke Hyam, in his own words, lost his head, hurled himself into a tackle and Judge didn’t play football again for nearly two years.

The Dubliner needed two surgeries and a 20-month rehabilitation process before he could tentatively reassume his identity as a professional footballer.

Tentative being the sadly operative word.

He started just three games after his comeback in January 2018, while the first half of this season brought just eight starts for Brentford. He had become, in his own words, “a bit-part player”.

Judge’s post-injury record stood at 11 starts in 45 games; easy grist for those willing to argue he isn’t the player he was before the injury.

“I have had one injury”, Judge tells The42. “People say I can’t keep fit but I’ve had one injury. It took me a long time to get back.”

In extending his contract while he was injured, Brentford showed Judge an admirable loyalty which he appreciated, but now they’ve parted ways.

Is his move at least partly based on quelling doubters? 

“It is, and it is about proving it to myself. The manager had been picking different players and that’s fine, but I want to prove it to myself. I know I can play every week. I’ve had two years out, so hopefully I’ll extend my career now.”

So why Ipswich? They are propping up the bottom of the Championship, seven points from safety. 

“When Ipswich came in for me, a couple of other Championship clubs made a move for me.

But I gave Paul Lambert my word. There are a great bunch of lads here. I could have gone somewhere else but I don’t like saying yes to someone and then turning around and telling them I’ve changed my mind.”

Relocating to East Anglia suits his family, too. Although they are still living in London, Judge sees them twice a week: after a recovery session on a Sunday morning and on a Thursday evening.

The prospect of regular football, however, is at the kernel of Judge’s happiness. He played all 90 minutes of Ipswich’s 2-1 defeat to Aston Villa yesterday, with the promise of much more to come. 

“It’s good to be wanted”, quips Judge.

“We played a lot of 4-3-3 [at Brentford] and I found myself out on the wing. The manager picked different players to me and that’s fine. But it’s good to play for a manager that doesn’t allow me do what I want, but gives me the freedom to express myself.

I spoke to him [Lambert] on the phone and I was struck by his enthusiasm. He tried to sign me when he was at Villa, so he knows what I can do. He has told me to play with freedom and he knows I like to get forward, and he told me he’ll only give out to me if I stop getting forward. That’s exactly what I want.”

Amid last year’s travails, there was one high point as he scored a late winner in a June game against the United States. His celebrations, with his family in the crowd, nixed the idea of the meaningless friendly.

Alan Judge celebrates his late goal Alan Judge celebrates his late winner against the United States last June, the only game Ireland won all year Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

But he didn’t play again for Ireland after that as his lack of regular club activity relegated him to the margins of Martin O’Neill’s infamously bloated provisional squads. That said, Judge bears nothing but gratitude to O’Neill and Roy Keane, thanking them for bringing him back into the fold this year and pointing out that he has collected more Irish caps post-injury than he had beforehand.

Judge is 30 now, but is optimistic of adding to his five Irish caps. The identity of the new manager augurs well.

Mick McCarthy was in the Ipswich dugout on the day Judge broke his leg and kept in contact with him during his recovery. He has also tried to sign Judge twice in the past -once, fittingly, for Ipswich – and has phoned him “three or four times” since Judge finally sealed his move to Portman Road.

For now, however, Alan Judge just wants to play football every week. 

The rest should take care of itself.

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