'It’s harder for players with an English background' - Harry Arter opens up on his battle to play for Ireland
Harry Arter has admitted he felt like an outsider when he was planted into Martin O’Neill’s Ireland squad for the first time - but those emotions have evaporated as he counts down the days to Saturday’s World Cup qualifier in Georgia.
More than two years after his senior Ireland debut, Bournemouth midfielder Arter is finally emerging as a key man in Martin O’Neill’s Ireland team after a series of setbacks on and off the field that pushed him to breaking point.
Arter revealed that he played in an international against Oman last year despite being on the brink of an emotional meltdown in an interview with the Sunday World earlier this month, as he came to terms with the death of his stillborn daughter Renee and his beloved grandfather.
He also faced a series of hurdles on the field, as he struggled to convince O’Neill that he was worthy of a place in his plans and then saw his dream of a place in Ireland’s Euro 2016 squad taken away by an injury just before the squad was selected.
It has been a challenging journey for the 27-year-old who should have a pivotal role to play in Ireland’s qualifier against Georgia in Tbilisi and now he has opened up to Independent.ie on his battle for acceptance in the Ireland set-up.
English-born Arter believes he had to work even harder to prove his commitment to the Ireland cause, in comments that make for thought-provoking reading.
“I think it’s harder for players with an English background making it into the Ireland side and in many ways, I don’t have a problem with that,” begins Arter, who qualifies to play for Ireland through his Sligo-born grandparents.
“If I was born in Ireland, came through the ranks and had earned my chance on the international stage, it would probably annoy me that an English-born player was getting in ahead of me because he was playing for a better club at the time.
“In an ideal world, a kid will make his mark in the League of Ireland, then go and prove his worth in the English Premier League and eventually become an international player.
“However, there comes a point where a player should be picked on merit and hopefully now I have shown that I’m totally committed to Ireland and determined to do all I can to get our country to the World Cup finals next summer.”
Arter admits his English accent was part of the reason why he felt different to the majority of the Ireland squad, but his concern over learning the Irish national anthem was quickly diluted by his team-mates.
“I’m not the only one that doesn’t sing the anthem so that makes me feel a bit better about not knowing the words yet,” he continues with a smile.
“I suppose the big issue I had when I went into the Ireland squad for the first time was that everything as very new for me.
“I have been at Bournemouth for seven years, knew everyone at the club and have always felt a part of it.
“So it was a new experience going into a squad of senior international players who all knew each other and trying to fit in with them all.
“Now everything feels very natural for me in the Ireland squad and I can’t wait for the next international get-together. There is a great bond within the Ireland squad and we have all been looking forward to these next two World Cup qualifiers for a long time now.”
Arter’s sparkling performance in Ireland’s 1-0 win against Austria in Vienna last November has put O’Neill’s men in a promising position heading into vital qualifiers against Georgia and Serbia that are now on the horizon.
Victories in these next two Group D games could put Ireland on the brink of qualification for the World Cup finals and Arter is already dreaming about dates against Brazil and Argentina in Russia ten months from now.
“Ireland may not be a top nation on the international stage, but we have a team spirit that allows up to be competitive against just about anyone. That is how we all feel in the squad,” adds Arter.
“The lads in that Ireland dressing room are all united behind the cause and it is great to be a part of it. It’s a very special spirit we have as Ireland players and that should never be taken out of our country’s DNA.
“I believe we have a different atmosphere compared to any other nation. As an example, Austria probably have players at bigger clubs than us, but we were better than them in Vienna and that’s probably because we wanted it more and were more passionate about our cause.
“You look at these next two games and they could be decisive in our hopes of qualifying for the World Cup.
“The Serbia game may look like the big one on paper as they are at the top of the group with us, but Georgia away is a very tough test and possibly the crucial fixture in this group.
“It’s not a nice place to go and we needed a couple of special goals from Aiden McGeady to get a win there in the Euro 2016 qualifiers, so we know what to expect.
“If we get a positive result there, all the pressure will be on Serbia when the come to Dublin and I’m sure they will not relish the challenge of playing in front of our crowd at the Aviva Stadium.
“Beating Germany in the Euro 2016 qualifiers a couple of years back confirmed that anything is possible for this Ireland team and if things get tough, that result reminds us that we are good enough to be in the World Cup in Russia.”
Arter now speaks like an established Ireland international and if gets a chance to take centre-stage at the World Cup finals next summer, he will join a select band of legends who have made a mark for our nation in the biggest competition of them all.