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Ipswich star Alan Judge exclusive: Playing for Paul Lambert, Dean Smith & Paul Ince

It may come as a surprise to many that Alan Judge has never made a Premier League appearance.

A player of obvious talent and quality, the Republic of Ireland international was never quite given the opportunity at Blackburn Rovers as a young player before moving down the divisions in order to establish himself.

He has since made 192 appearances in the Championship, as well as winning a further nine caps for his country.

The left footed midfielder was also cruelly ruled out of Euro 2016 following a broken leg, but now playing in League 1 with Ipswich Town he remains confident he can achieve more at both club and international level before the end of his career.

“I kind of had that Premier League chance taken away from me when I broke my leg, but my ambition is to get back playing in the Championship and finish my career off playing there rather than League 1," he told Tribal Football.

“Ipswich had been in the Championship for one of the longest of any teams and hopefully we will do it at the first time of asking. We have finally got back into form now I think."

Ipswich currently sit third in the table under the management of Paul Lambert, who famously helped the Tractor Boys' fiercest rivals Norwich City to consecutive promotions from League 1 up to the Premier League earlier in his career.

While this may be a sore spot for some fans, Judge believes this experience should benefit Ipswich as they chase promotion this season.

“The gaffer got Norwich City promoted from League 1 and then got them promoted again so if you are looking for a manager that knows how to do it, it would be him," he said.

“We are hopefully going to have a good year in League 1, winning more games than not and taking that momentum into the new season, provided we get the job done this term."

Judge started his career with Blackburn but didn't quite get the first team opportunities he desired, so he moved to Notts County on a permanent deal in 2011 after successful loan spells there and with Plymouth Argyle.

“I played in League 1 before for Notts County for a year and a little bit and I think the quality has got better," he explained.

“I think the Championship is a much higher standard now too, but there is also a lot more football being played in League 1 than I thought there would be."

During his 11-year career at the top Judge has worked for a number of big name managers, in fact working under former Manchester United and England midfielder Paul Ince on two occasions.

“The minute Paul came in at Blackburn, he didn't care about your name or reputation," Judge explained.

“I felt like he took to me straight away from the first day in training and he had me in and around the first team. He then gave me my debut and I think I would have probably played a little more if he had stayed for longer. To me he was very good and I had him twice, at Notts County too, so to me he was always very good. I think he has maybe been a bit unlucky in one or two jobs that he took. I think he will be looking at getting back in there at some point, so hopefully it's over for him."

Judge's former club Notts County have suffered greatly since he left the club and were relegated out of the Football League last season.

Now, sixth in the National League, the club are looking to rebuild and Judge certainly remembers his time in Nottingham fondly.

He said: “I had two good years at Notts County and I enjoyed it, I enjoyed living in Nottingham. The way things were happening behind the scenes it wasn't a surprise to see what has happened happen though. But it's a pity because the fans are great and they don't deserve it."

Judge's most recent spell before moving to Ipswich came at Brentford, where he worked under current Aston Villa manager Dean Smith.

It was Smith's impressive work and playing style at Brentford that took him to Villa and Judge remembered his time with Smith at Griffin Park well.

“I worked well with Dean before I broke my leg and as a person I got on really well with him," he said.

“He is an easy man to talk to and he likes playing proper football, so I really enjoyed my time under him. Villa are struggling at the moment but they brought in a lot of players over the summer and it takes some time to gel. I have seen them play a number of times this season and they have had some unbelievable performances and I think Dean has got a good coaching staff behind him, so I think they will stay up."

Brentford have also achieved since Judge and Smith departed part way through last season and the Ireland international said he wasn't surprised at their progress.

“I first came to Brentford when they were in League 1 and the new owner came in," he said.

“We got promoted under Mark Warburton and while they know they aren't the biggest club financially, they go about doing things the right way and that is what allows them to be where they are."

With Euro 2020 coming around in the summer, the Republic of Ireland still have hopes of qualification via the playoffs against Slovakia in March.

Ireland struggled during the UEFA Nations League under previous coach Martin O'Neill, but Judge feels his replacement Mick McCarthy has done a good job since taking over in November 2018.

“We have to be hopeful as we only lost two games in the qualifying round and I think Mick has done an unbelievable job," he said.

“Every time Ireland has got to a major tournament it has been through the playoffs, but if we had beaten Denmark we would have been the first side to qualify automatically. Some people might see it as us being unlucky, but we are confident we can get ourselves through the next few games, starting with Slovakia in March. Under Mick he has installed a more attacking style. I know some people think we tend to sit back, and let's get it right we are playing against some of the best players and teams in the world, but we always intend to go out and win games."

The introduction of the Nations League has not been wholeheartedly welcomed, but Judge feels its introduction has benefitted international sides looking for more competitive football.

“I think players prefer the new Nations League system because there are fewer friendlies and you are always playing for something," he said.

“Maybe for managers they may want to see players and they no longer have friendlies, but players want to be playing for something and friendlies can be dull. I think more competitive football at international level is a good thing."

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William Dodds

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