Upbeat Harry Arter switches focus to World Cup bid
Published 10/06/2016 | 02:30
Tucked away to the south of Lough Gill, Harry Arter is stealthily tracing the ancestral paths beneath the cooling branches of the oak and the rowan.
He is ascending towards Tobernalt Well in Sligo, questing the elusive sustenance of a sacred haven that pre-dates even Celtic times.
It is the morning after the night before; the hangover he feels is not in his head, but throbbing annoyingly nonetheless, the pain threatening to explode through the front of his thigh.
He didn't feel like celebrating the man of the match performance against Holland - his first start, a year after his first cap - that most of Ireland had naturally assumed afforded him one of the cherished 23 berths in Martin O'Neill's Euro 2016 squad.
His proud parents beamed the brightest of smiles; family and friends acclaimed him, team-mates sought to clink celebratory bottles. But Arter's outward smile concealed a grim battle within. Arter only sought his own private place.
"I wasn't thinking about anything in that sort of way, man of the match or going to the Euros," the 26-year-old Bournemouth midfielder says softly.
A day earlier, the burgeoning calf problem had flared up again; adrenaline had masked its effects during the manic match.
"I thought to myself I haven't really got a choice today. Either I don't play and just go home Tuesday anyway or play and hope that the injury just goes away."
Later, as he walks into the FAI lounge, shortly after being one of the few polite enough to talk to us in the mixed zone, how it pounds once more!
"Unfortunately I couldn't really enjoy the night. I remember coming up to the lounge and my mum and dad were there, they were all really happy," he recalls.
"To them man of the match seems a bigger deal than it really is. It was disappointing that I couldn't share that happiness with them because I knew I had that slight problem.
"It was a worry for me. From then on, I wasn't even thinking about getting into the squad. It was just about getting through the next session. But I couldn't."
He tried, though. The squad had a weekend off and so Arter and family decamped to Sligo, from where his grandparents, clatters of Strandhill Rooneys and Rosses Point Gallaghers, hailed.
"I had a nice weekend with my family," he says, presaging the visit to what locals call the "Holy Well"; a serene and soothing place; where folk still tie rags to branches for luck, recalling the Pagan tradition, and the waterfall offers a becalming soundscape.
"All day I iced my leg every two hours, hoping it would be magic ice or something like that. My mum said if you bless your leg at the Holy Well, the pain would go away. I thought it might do the trick. Unfortunately, the water wasn't strong enough this time. So it didn't work."
He feared the worst; on the morning Ireland were due to play Belarus in Cork, O'Neill sent him home to Bournemouth to see how their medical opinion might differ from the FAI's 3-4 week diagnosis.
The answer was not much; they could shave a week off it; Arter could make a knock-out game but O'Neill, already freighting players with injury concerns, would not take such a risk.
"It wasn't just something showing up on a scan and me not feeling any symptoms. I was getting symptoms, that was the important thing," he says.
"The scan might tell me I had a broken leg but if I don't feel the pain, I'm not too fussed. But the pain for me was the main indicator that I'm going to struggle here."
Roy Keane and Martin O'Neill spoke to Arter at length; they are determined that the midfielder will form an integral role in the next World Cup qualifying campaign. That eased some of the physical pain; the mental anguish should have been more difficult but personal perspective has inured him against such self-indulgence.
"I am rounded," said Arter. "I like to surround myself with positive people who try to make me realise that I have a lot to look forward to and a lot to work hard for. That's what I set my mind to.
"Of course I want to be there but honestly I feel it won't be hard to live through. I live a nice life, I feel very privileged in my life and I have so much to work hard for."
As we speak, his Ireland team-mates are training in Versailles. How will they do?
"Our team spirit is key, we work and the lads have a real desire to win which can occasionally overcome the class of the big sides. And we have a real passion for wanting to succeed," he said.
That he will not share in it will not define Harry Arter's Ireland career; he is confident that will be the case. He knows it won't define his life.
"It's not the end for me, it's not like a career-ending injury. Disappointments are a part of life. I want to be just fully focused on my next challenge, to get fit. Of course, I wouldn't be human if I wasn't disappointed," he said.
"But it's not going to ruin my summer."
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