Euro 2016 Group D
Republic of Ireland v Poland
Sunday: Aviva Stadium, 7:45pm
TV: RTÉ 2, Sky Sports 5
There was a time when Sligo was as familiar to Harry Arter as the streets of his native Sidcup or the beaches of Bournemouth where he is now based and has played his football for the last five years.
Both sets of grandparents, Rooneys and Gallaghers, hail from the northwest county and the newly-minted member of Martin O’Neill’s Republic of Ireland squad travelled over from England time and again to spend his summer holidays with his mother’s side of the family.
“I’ve heard Sligo has changed a bit,” he said yesterday just minutes after completing his first session with the national team at a sunny but cold and windy Malahide. “I haven’t been there for a few years but I have good memories of the place.”
That decreased familiarity with Ireland is one reflected in a career that saw him capped by the FAI as a 15-year old. A stint at U19 level — after rejecting an England U17 approach — followed but the U21s passed him by, coinciding as it did with a fall from grace at club level.
He had been two years with Charlton Athletic when the freefall began with short loan spells at Staines Town and Welling United.
A year-long move to non-league Woking Town followed before the ship righted itself with a move to Bournemouth on the south coast.
Steve Finnan is an example of an Irish player who drifted into the non-league wilderness before resurrecting his career but thoughts of international football rarely bothered Arter at the time.
“There’s probably loads of players who go to non-league and end up staying there,” he countered. “It’s easy when you’re at that level to blame other things and point at other things as to why you are there but you are there for a reason. You failed at the level you were at and you have to prove yourself again.
“One thing I felt I had to do was work hard and I’m still doing that to try and achieve my goals. The recipe for success is hard work and that’s one thing I’m doing.”
Arter arrived in Dublin a day later than the rest of the squad due to club duties but he prepped himself for his first day by phoning brother-in-law Scott Parker who knows a thing or two about the international game having captained England.
It was after watching Parker play for Fulham not so long ago that Arter took the opportunity to introduce himself to O’Neill who had also been in the stands that day, but it is his onfield performances that have really brought him to the Ireland manager’s attention.
Prominent in Bournemouth’s promotion to the second-tier in 2013, he has established himself as a midfielder of note and one capable of scoring the odd goal: the latest being a spectacular blast against Middlesbrough at the weekend. His last involvement in an Irish jersey was over six years ago. It ended prematurely in the form of a red card received for a bad tackle against Portugal, but the idea that he was brought in this week just for the experience has been challenged.
O’Neill has admitted that initial thoughts of merely giving the new man a feel for the scene have dissolved into something more suggestive of involvement in one form or another during Sunday’s European Championship qualifier against Poland in Dublin.
It’s a long shot, no question, and yet testament to a man who may not have any international or Premier League experience but is no babe in the woods at the age of 25 and with 144 appearances for the Cherries to his name.
“It’s my first time here and there is an unbelievably talented squad here,” he said when asked about a possible fast track into the match day squad. “I’m here for whatever the management wants me to be here for. If that’s to try and just impress or be a part of the game then I’ll try be a positive influence. The most important thing here is the team and I’m ready to play a part in that.”
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