Lansdowne return just the ticket for Judge as senior debut beckons
Published 23/03/2016 | 02:30
Twenty-six years on from his last active role on the Lansdowne Road turf as a mascot for Bray Wanderers' FAI Cup triumph, Alan Judge is tantalisingly close to leaving there on Friday as a full international.
The Brentford man admits he was naturally too young for the experience of flanking his father, Seagulls captain Dermot Judge, to feature in his memory bank but it's been a team effort since in getting him to the cusp of his senior Ireland debut against Switzerland.
"I was only two years old at the time and probably ended up inside the FAI Cup after Bray won it that day," he reveals.
"I've seen the photos and it's nice to have that memory. My dad was the first captain to lift the trophy in a final played at Lansdowne and hopefully I can finally get out there myself this week.
"My dad has been a huge influence on my career, as have all my family. He was my manager for a while with the U-12s for St Joseph's Boys but I got the usual stick, team-mates saying, 'You're only playing because he's your dad'. I eventually moved on to Blackburn Rovers, proving that wasn't the case."
Overcoming the doubters remained a challenge in England.
Not once but twice Blackburn showed him the door and, while he's now justifiably considered the prime uncapped candidate vying for inclusion in Ireland's Euro 2016 squad, reaching this position has entailed a circuitous route for the 27-year-old.
Judge hasn't been raised to gloat but presents a degree of context when comparing the paths taken by his two Academy peers at Blackburn.
Both Keith Treacy and Eddie Nolan progressed to gain senior Ireland caps under Giovanni Trapattoni but Treacy is back playing in the League of Ireland and Nolan was recently released by League Two strugglers York City.
"I was one of the quieter ones when I moved over first," he explains. "Blackburn had the two main boys, Keith and Eddie, and I was just the third one. It's weird how it can change and careers go different ways. Keith was undoubtedly brilliant, Eddie was a good player too. I just had to wait a bit longer. You just bide your time. I was always told that good things come to those who wait.
"Not everything gets handed to you. Working hard and digging in is needed and I feel I have done that and am starting to see the rewards."
Though devastated at the time, getting the chop from Ewood Park by Sam Allardyce in 2011 was catalyst for this late bloomer.
"I wasn't ready for the Premier League and Sam was straight up with me," reveals the Dubliner.
"I appreciated that he told me I wasn't his type of player. It was best to go down to League One with Notts County and get kicked around by a few six-foot-six centre-halves."
Judge would gain cult status at Meadow Lane, outgrowing them to join Brentford in 2014 via a brief return to Blackburn.
Now he's outgrown the Bees to the extent they knocked back bids from Burnley and Sheffield Wednesday this season and admits his departure is certain to materialise in the summer.
His 14-goal haul so far this term in a relegation-threatened side makes his international ascent all the more deserved, given he's the highest Irish scorer in the top two English divisions by a distance.
Martin O'Neill is a big fan, making good use of Griffin Park's close proximity to his house with regular visits over the past 18 months to track the attacker.
At the present rate, the Ireland manager might be venturing further to a Premier League ground next season to keep tabs on Judge and the player acknowledges a trip to France in the summer could broaden his profile further.
"Scoring goals will always get you noticed," he notes. "I feel at the best in my career and I'm coming into the Ireland squad training with players who are playing Premier League week-in, week-out.
"The standard of training is completely different but it's something I'm enjoying and adapting too which is good. I've been in a few squads so I'm getting closer to my first cap.
"You want to do well in these two friendlies but you want to do what you normally do. You don't want to get drawn into the pressure of playing well.
"I'd say my chances of making the Euros squad are maybe 50/50. That could be a showcase for me but I'm not getting ahead of myself."
Experience has taught Judge the value of that perspective.