On the eve of Ireland’s friendly defeat in Turkey last Friday, Seamus Coleman conceded that, as the team captain — and a Premier League player to boot — the focus of attention would inevitably be on his welcome in a green shirt after a year out through injury.
But, typically, the Donegal man made a point of drawing attention to Alan Judge, another player who was back in the Irish set-up after an even longer period sidelined through a double-leg fracture which, following complications, required further surgery and ultimately kept him off a football pitch for some 20 months.
That the Brentford schemer also made an appearance, off the bench, in the Antalya Stadium, was another significant consolation to be drawn from a game which — Declan Rice’s assured first cap aside — provided little enough to write home about from an Irish perspective.
“I was disappointed about the result but, personally, it’s been a long two years so was nice to come out of hell and get back into it,” said Judge.
“Obviously I had a little bit of fear because I had to get back in at club level first. I reckon it will be pre-season when I get back to my best. I’ve still got a lot of work to do but Martin, Roy and everyone in the Irish camp had been in touch with me quite a lot so that has been good for me.”
And then there was that mutually supportive relationship with fellow sufferer Seamus Coleman.
“Me and Seamus go back a long way,” said Judge. “We played together underage. It was funny, just talking about things and how hard it is not to just sit there and eat. We were kind of bouncing ideas off each other, what he felt, the pain that he felt, stuff like that. I don’t know for him but it was just nice to talk to somebody about it, someone who has been through the exact same experience as you. They know how you are feeling.”
Judge also greatly valued the support of family in London and Dublin.
“They were massive,” he says. “The main thing was that I got to see my kids for two years, you know what I mean? I would never complain about being a footballer but you do only get to see your kids for about 60% of the time.
“Ideally you would like to see them 100% of the time even though they do drive me crazy sometimes (laughs).
“My family in general — cousins, uncles and everyone — are massive to me. They were around me the whole time.”
If there’s one big thing Judge has had to learn in the last two years, it’s the value of being patient, so he’s not about to demand too much of himself between now and the end of the Championship campaign.
“I reckon next season is the one when you will see the best of me again,” he said.
For Matt Doherty, the waiting also ended in Turkey, the 26-year-old Wolves full-back finally making his long overdue debut for his country as he replaced Coleman just past the hour mark.
“It’s never easy for anyone coming off the bench and picking up the pace of the game, but I really enjoyed it, it went quick,” said the Dubliner.
“The way I play with my club is with intensity and getting forward and I tried to put myself around. I got into a few decent positions.
“It’s a big start for me now. It helps that I’m playing a team which looks like it will be playing in the Premier League next season. We’ve got eight games left and we’re in a really strong positison. It gives you a lot of confidence playing in a team full of very good players.”
Doherty bristles at the accusation that Wolves’ links with super agent Jorge Mendes mean their expensively recruited side is on the brink of effectively ‘buying’ the Championship title. “Some of the stuff they’re complaining about is pathetic really,” he said.
“Even Neil Warnock came out and backed us up, and he would be one you’d think would be firmly on top of it. They’re trying anything to get some points off us. But we’ve done our talking on the pitch — we’re 13 points clear of third. The clubs talking are those behind us who are slipping up. They should have other things to worry about. Without being cocky, we’ve just been the best.”
Meanwhile, another debutant for Ireland in Antalya, Scott Hogan, feels he has nothing to beat himself up about for failing to convert the visitors’ best — and only — chance of the game, after he had been put through one on one with the Turkish ‘keeper by Jeff Hendrick’s defence-splitting pass.
“I said in the dressing room afterward that I’ll never change my mind and if I got the same chance again I would do the exact same thing,” said the Aston Villa striker.
“It just skipped away on the turf. We trained on it the previous night and it was bone dry but they wet it on the day of the game. The touch was fine (but) it just skidded away. I thought I did everything right but it just got away from me.”
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