Thursday 18 July 2019

Miguel Delaney: Harry Arter's tough tackles can do for Ireland what Roy Keane's reducer did in 2001

Roy Keane probably sees a little of himself in midfielder's tough-tackling approach

Miguel Delaney

At an Irish bar in Marbella back in June, there were a fair few fans watching the team's Euro 2016 games who clearly didn't realise they were in the presence of someone who could well have been on the pitch.

The Spanish resort was where Harry Arter chose to go on holiday when he finally learned a thigh injury had ruled him out of the tournament and, remarkably, he wasn't recognised by anyone.

"I prefer it that way, to be honest," Arter (26) says. "I much prefer just to be away with my friends and be a supporter really, and it was nice to be away in that environment."

It's good Arter enjoyed it, because it's set to change, especially if he continues the trend of his last two caps in tomorrow's opening qualifier against Serbia. At the start of both friendlies against the Netherlands and Oman, the Bournemouth midfielder put in hard, early challenges, of the type that certainly got the referee's attention - and his manager's.

"The one in the Holland game was probably the sort of tackle I would try and make, but the one against Oman was a bit silly, really," he admits. "It was a lapse in concentration, probably the wrong sort of thing to do and the manager wasn't too happy, to be honest.

"He just pointed out that, if that was a competitive game, that's a booking and you're walking a tightrope from the first minute - so it was a bit silly from me really, probably a little bit of excitement coming out in the wrong way. I've played in high-pressure games before and I like to think I'm able to control myself better than that."

There's another way of looking at these challenges, though, and it's a view that might well be taken by the man usually to Martin O'Neill's right. As with Roy Keane's famous foul against the Netherlands in 2001, a tough match in Belgrade might require a similarly tough tackle, especially if Ireland are to abrasively seize the group in the way they did 15 years ago. It is relevant that Arter enthuses about the influence of Keane growing up, even if he won't quite call him a role model in the way he does brother-in-law Scott Parker.

"I'm not going to say Roy Keane, because everyone will think I'm just saying that to get in the team," he says. "He was obviously an unbelievable player. I just liked his passion for football really, his will to win. I looked at his way of playing, he'd do anything to win."

Arter feels he is ready to give everything for Ireland, and there is a slight sense this is the proper start to his international career, as much as the start to a new campaign. The midfielder was regularly kept in the squad last season after making his debut against England in June 2015, but that also covered a period when he suffered deep personal tragedy with the stillbirth of his daughter in December. Arter believes the stress of that contributed to a series of physical issues that culminated in the injury that kept him out of Euro 2016. Unlike many who miss out on tournaments, he almost felt relief as much as regret then.

He isn't sure whether he would have been able to give the truest account if himself in France. He also just needed to recharge.

"Yeah, there was that sort of element to it as well. The day I realised I wasn't able to go to the Euros, it was a little bit of a relief really, because I was battling with myself to try and make myself fit," he says. "Deep down, I knew that wasn't going to be the case. It was a good seven days of ice on my leg every day, telling myself it's going to be alright today, training through pain, playing against Holland through pain. And, as I say, that day in Cork, when the scan came back and it was pretty evident that it was zero chance of me being fit, I did have a sigh of relief, yeah.

"I was weighing up everything in my mind. There were 100 things going through it really, the thought of missing it through an injury and trying to just get through it like I would do. Once it was obvious I couldn't go, I spoke to my club doctor at Bournemouth. I felt maybe the injuries I had over the season were purely down to the stresses I had in my life at the time, and it was nice to maybe just chill out from football, just be a fan for the summer and kind of rest my body.

"I wouldn't say the stresses have gone, but now I'm just trying to get myself fully fit and trying to get myself in a mentally good state."

There should be no doubt about Arter's self-assurance, though, as illustrated by the fact he sees Jack Wilshere's loan to Bourneouth as something good for his career rather than a move that could force him to the sidelines.

"I've got confidence in my ability that won't happen," he insists. "I've been part of the club for the last six years now. Every year he has brought in added competition. Up until now, I haven't missed a game through anything other than an injury, so I'm thankful for the manager always playing me.

"Obviously, the competition has got even harder. That's what I thrive on. I want to become a better player and I'm only going to do that if the manager brings in players of Jack's ability."

Arter showed some of his own ability with the glorious pass for Ireland's fourth against Oman, in a move that also showed the other side of those tackles. He's ready to offer either, and feels comfortable in any midfield position, but the more physical side might be required against Serbia in the absence of James McCarthy. It might well be encouraged by the assistant manager. So, what did Keane make of those tackles?

"He didn't actually say anything, so he might have been a little bit happier."

He might well have recognised something of himself.

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