Since he’s something of an old-school sort, a tenacious midfielder who likes to get his tackles in, it’s probably just as well that Harry Arter isn’t one of the eight Irish players on yellow cards going into Saturday’s World Cup qualifier against Georgia in Tbilisi.
Robbie Brady, Cyrus Christie, Shane Duffy, Aiden McGeady, David Meyler, Jon Walters, Stephen Ward, and Glenn Whelan are all just one more booking away from getting a suspension which would rule them out of next Tuesday’s meeting with Serbia in Dublin. And the risk of that happening to one or more of them would appear to be somewhat above average given that Saturday’s referee, Ivan Kruzliak from Slovakia, handed out no fewer than 40 bookings over the course of six Europa League games in 2016/17.
If all that suggests the Bournemouth midfielder could be a marked man in Tbilisi, he certainly won’t let it affect his appetite for the fray.
“To an extent, yeah,” he agrees when asked if he feels he belongs to a dying breed in the modern game. “The way rules have changed in football probably stops that a little bit and it’s why I’ve picked up a few yellow cards. But that’s just the way I was brought up, to an extent. That’s what gets me in the right mental frame to perform. I just want to win the game. It doesn’t matter if I’m playing in the garden with my brother-in-law and his mates, or for Bournemouth, or for Ireland — I’ve got a winning mentality. I’ll do anything to make sure I win.
“But I’m not happy when I get booked. The speed these players have when they run at you, you know there will be the odd time where you do catch them, and mistime a tackle. Managers I’ve worked under, and there has not been many, have always encouraged me to play at my full tempo, at the point where they feel they can get the best out of me. And that’s being wholehearted. You can’t doubt yourself going into tackles. It wouldn’t affect me if I was going into a tackle on a booking. I’m still going to play the same way. Ideally, no-one gets booked on Saturday and we get a result — and if someone picks up a booking for the team then it’s worth it.”
Arter is at pains to emphasise that nothing can be taken for granted ahead of a game against the second from bottom team in Group D.
“I think it’s one of these games where it would be easy to get carried away and see Serbia as the crucial game in the group,” he says. “But I think that everyone is aware that going to Georgia is tough, let alone having the pressure to get three points. So our mind is purely on that at the minute and we’re working towards getting a win. They have a lack of pressure to an extent because they can’t do much in the group now so the pressure is all on us. And that’s something we as individuals in a squad thrive on.”
After a series of injury-enforced false starts to his international career, momentum seems to be finally with Arter who brought his caps total to six with back-to-back starts in the last two World Cup qualifiers, the home draws with Wales and Austria.
“I definitely feel very much part of the squad, now, in and around the place,” he says.
“I was looking forward to coming in since the season started, to be honest. And if it is the case you play better after eight to 10 games, then I’m looking forward to that. I’m happy at how things are going, I feel quite comfortable at this level.
“If you look at the Premier League, you play more against foreign players than you do English. They play slightly differently so you’re used to that. The only thing that takes time getting used to is working with a different management team. They have different ideas and beliefs to your club team but every player will have that when they come here so maybe that part will take being in a few more teams.”
He recalls his first encounter with Martin O’Neill, around Christmas time in 2014, when Harry Redknapp made the introductions at a match where Arter was watching his brother-in-law Scott Parker playing for Fulham.
“Basically I said ‘give us a shout’ in a roundabout way,” he smiles. “Martin knew who I was. Harry let him know I was Irish and said, ‘he could play for you.’ Martin laughed. A couple of months later I got picked.”
To be selected for Ireland was a personal dream for Arter but he says he understands why, for some in this country, eligible players born in England have a bit more to prove when they elect to become one of the boys in green.
“I just feel that, in an ideal world for Irish football, the best thing is for a young lad to grow up here, progress through one of the local teams, come through the Irish ranks, go to England or abroad, and prove their worth at the highest stage and then get into the international team,” he reflects. “If I was born here and had grown up here all my life and had seen an English-born player of the same ability playing in front of me, then it would annoy me a little bit.
“I understand that point but, thankfully, I think the balance is really good here. I think the manager and, as a country, they have always gauged it right. When a player deserves to play, it doesn’t matter where they’re from. If they’ve got a desire to play for Ireland then that should be taken seriously. And, thankfully, the support I have had from all the Irish fans has been brilliant.”
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