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Friday 17 November 2017

Harte welcomes his second bite at cherry

Irish veteran has resurfaced at Reading with international ambitions, writes Dion Fanning

Roy Keane once greeted Terry Phelan in the tunnel at Goodison Park with the words, "Christ, Terry, I thought you were dead."

If there is anybody as direct as Keane at Eastlands today, they might be tempted to say the same to Ian Harte.

He has re-emerged this season at Reading, doing the things he did when Leeds were charging across England and Europe, a swashbuckling side with Harte as a free-kick specialist.

He talks about dropping down to Carlisle United in League One but that was the beginning of the re-emergence. Harte enjoyed his time in Spain at Levante, "making a fool of myself", as he puts it, in his attempts to learn the language.

He stayed for three years but returned to an English game that seemed keen to forget all that had happened at Leeds, the financial excess and even the contribution of players like Harte.

He spent a year at Sunderland under Roy Keane but played only a handful of games.

"I got on pretty well with Roy, I just didn't play. Like any manager he's got to make tough decisions and pick the team but obviously he tried to bring me to Ipswich last year as well."

By the time Keane tried to sign him for Ipswich, Harte's career had recovered from the lows of 2008 when he searched for a club, played a couple of months at Blackpool, before considering a move to Inverness and then signing for Carlisle towards the end of the 2008/09 season.

It hadn't been that long since Leeds, under David O'Leary, reached the semi-final of the Champions League, hadn't been so long since Harte was playing at the World Cup, but to rebuild his career he went to Carlisle and is now taking every opportunity.

Right now, it is Manchester City as Reading aim to continue their excellent cup form, then there will be a push for the play-offs.

Ireland remains a possibility too. He knows that Shane Long has reminded the coaching staff of his existence and there is now the possibility that he will be spotted, not only because he is playing in the Championship but because he is at a club which it is essential for the Irish set-up to watch.

"Mr Trapattoni doesn't really go to watch games in League One, do you know what I mean? There's not much heating at League One grounds."

Mr Trapattoni doesn't really go to watch any games so at least Harte is on a level playing field but he has endured enough in his career not to worry about it.

"I've done decent so far this season and there hasn't been a call so I'm not losing any sleep over it. If I get a call it would be brilliant."

He signed for Reading at the beginning of the season on a two-year contract and that act of faith has been rewarded.

His last Ireland cap was in San Marino in 2007. He expresses surprise at that, although whether he's shocked at how recent it is or how long ago is unclear. Harte seems to belong to the Mick McCarthy era and he has suggested in the past that once he went to Spain he was forgotten about.

He has an opportunity to remind people again today. At Leeds, he was part of the group along with his uncle Gary Kelly and Robbie Keane that were a core for club and country. Now he watches Long and Noel Hunt and enjoys their company but is aware of the change.

"They're a lot younger than me, but it's been brilliant. The most important bit is that there is good spirit and good togetherness."

Long is a player everyone at Reading is impressed by. Manager Brian McDermott spoke about him again on Friday, saying "it comes with the territory" that a player who has scored the goals Long has this season will be coveted by bigger clubs. "He can play every day, he has a great attitude and everyone at the club, staff and players, have great respect for him."

Harte is witnessing that now as McDermott's nurturing of Long -- "Shane just needed to play" -- pushes Reading forward and Harte sees no need to look back and stare at the days when he was young.

When he was at Leeds, he recalls the nights out on a Tuesday or Saturday. Now it's different. He has children, he's 33 and everything is different.

"You don't have any children then. Everything changes when you have children, sleepless nights and whatever. It was good then but that's in the past. I'm looking forward to here now and the game against City."

He hasn't been to the Aviva Stadium but he hasn't given up hope that his first visit will be as part of an Ireland squad. Football has told him that things don't always go in straight lines. "I wouldn't say it's a second chance because I always knew I had the quality. But somebody had to give me the chance."

Manchester City v Reading,

ESPN, 4.0

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