Bees midfielder Alan Judge admits it’s been nice to show some of Brentford’s new signings that he is actually a footballer after returning to first-team training in recent weeks. The 2015/16 Players’ Player and Supporters’ Player of the Year, who scored 14 goals and assisted 11 that campaign, hasn’t kicked a ball in anger since a double lower-leg fracture away at Ipswich Town in April 2016. After more than 18 months out, Alan admitted there was some nervousness ahead of his return to training but has been really happy with how he has adjusted to being among the group at Jersey Road.
“It is good to be back,” Alan told iFollow Brentford after training on Friday. “It’s hard but it is enjoyable. I have been looking forward to it and I am finally back out there. I have been training for two weeks now and I have taken to it quite well: I thought I would be a bit more off the pace. There is still a long way to go but I have been very happy with the way that I have returned. I don’t know if the lads are pleased to see me back because I am a bit of a moaner. They will probably get bored of me in a few weeks when I shout at them. It was weird because I was coming in when the lads were going out to training so I didn’t see them properly for 12 or 13 months. Most of the new lads probably thought that I worked here because they had never seen me kick a ball but now they know that I actually play. It has been great to be back around the lads and the medical team have looked after me great.”
As well as the physical recovery, the mental side of returning from this injury has been a key battle. Alan, who turns 29 today, returned to training early in 2017 but, in April, had to undergo a further operation to aid in the recovery process, further delaying his return. Now that he is back in first-team training, Alan has set himself little goals to hit ahead of his return, another of which he passed in training on Friday.
“The last 18 months have been hard,” admitted Alan. “There were days where I thought that I wasn’t getting any better, and I certainly had a few of them, but you have to go home, wake up the next day, and go again. It is all little markers for me now. On Friday, Florian Jozefzoon took me out in training, which is a massive thing for me. You need to get hit in training and I got hit. He maybe didn’t catch me right on the leg but things like that go through your mind. I think that I have been quite good with it: you can’t hide the fact that you need to go into a challenge. If you pull out then you know that there is something wrong and I have been quite pleased with myself there. People ask me if I am excited to be back in training and I tell them that I will be excited when I play my first game.”
Before his injury, Alan had just broken into Martin O’Neill’s Republic of Ireland squad prior to Euro 2016, making his debut in a 1-0 win against Switzerland at The Aviva Stadium in Dublin. The Republic face Denmark in the first leg of their 2018 World Cup Play-Off tonight with just 180 minutes separating them from a place in Russia next summer. While Alan doesn’t want to get too far ahead of himself, international ambition still burns strongly for the Dubliner, especially if there is a plane ticket to Russia 2018 on offer.
“If we get to the World Cup, which is my hope, then I am aiming to be back around that Irish team in March,” revealed Alan. “I know people say to take one game at a time but I have to aim big. It is a massive thing for me: I don’t want to be a player who plays for my country once. I feel that I would have got a lot more caps and I still feel that I can. I will take it one step at a time but I do have a big picture in mind.”