The road to recovery was a long and arduous one for Ipswich Town and Ireland midfielder Alan Judge.
At the end of the 2015/2016 campaign, in the midst of the best form of his career with Brentford, the 30-year old suffered multiple leg-breaks in a tackle from Ipswich’s Luke Hyam which saw him miss a season and a half of action.
Almost four years on and now playing for the very team he suffered his horrific injury playing against, Judge is finally starting to show the form which saw him included in the Championship Team of the Season, at a struggling Ipswich.
Judge’s return to regular first team action at Portman Road has earned him a deserved international recall, something he had not thought possible just a few short months ago.
“If you would have said a few months ago would I be in this position? Maybe not,” Judge told the media ahead of Ireland training on Wednesday.
“I went out and played football and I’m really enjoying it at the minute, playing every minute of every game. I feel I’m not far off to where I was before.
“I had a hard two and a half years, I got back fit and I was sitting on the bench, it’s just the way it goes. The chance came up to go to Ipswich and play every week, and there’s no way I was going to turn it down.”
For the 30-year old, leaving Brentford for first-team opportunities at Ipswich was crucial. The lure of playing games week in and week out was something that he simply could not pass up despite the Tractor Boys’ compromising position in the Championship.
“Yeah, it’s great to be back playing football. I’m enjoying every minute of it, as I said the last two or three years for me hasn’t been the easiest. I’m enjoying my football now.
“I know we’re bottom of the league at Ipswich but I’m enjoying every minute at the moment and I think that’s the reason why I’ve gotten myself back in here and I’m starting to show what I’ve done before and I’m just a goal away from where I was before.”
Towards the end of Martin O’Neill’s tenure Judge found himself as a bit-part player, in and out of the squad, playing 10 or 15 minutes here and there.
The midfielder outlined that his return from injury was mentally a challenge, but now that he is fit and firing again he is almost back to a high level of consistency.
“Without a doubt, I’m mentally stronger.
“I know Seamus [Coleman] has gone through the same thing, I had two years of it. The one thing I will say is that I had plenty of time with my family, I think they’re sick of seeing me at the minute.
“You go through tackles, you go through everything and you always think ‘am I going to get back to it?’ and it took me six or seven matches at Ipswich to realise I could get back to this. You do have mental challenges but I’m loving it at the moment.”
Judge was included in McCarthy’s final 23-man squad for the upcoming qualifiers against Gibraltar and Georgia with the new Irish boss outlining last week that the Ipswich man is the “closest thing to Wes Hoolahan” in the current Irish midfield.
Does the 30-year old agree with the comparison?
“We’re both small,” joked Judge.
“Nah but we’re similar players, it’s good to be compared to Wes. People might say we’re a little different in certain things but if I can do what Wes did when he played for Ireland I’d be delighted.
“I’m at a similar age to him where he started coming in and playing more games.”
With the likes of Alan Browne and Callum O’Dowda, two of Ireland’s main attacking midfield options, both missing, the upcoming games may represent a chance for Judge to make his first Irish start in over three years and only his second in total.
“I do prefer playing as a number 10 but if I do get chosen out wide or anything like that I don’t mind as long as I play minutes I’ll be happy.
“If the manager wants me to do something then I’ll do it to the best of my ability, but yeah everyone looks at the squad and thinks they have a chance to play if that comes my way hopefully I’ll take it.”