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Exclusive - Harry Arter on a chance meeting that changed his career

SoccerBy Kevin Palmer
Arter set to get a chance to shine for Ireland
Arter set to get a chance to shine for Ireland

THE football fates conspired to draw Harry Arter towards Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill in a darkened car park at Fulham’s Craven Cottage home in late 2014.

O’Neill did not get the chance to assess Arter’s international credentials in a game that had not featured his Bournemouth side, but the Ireland boss came away from his latest scouting mission compelled by the young man who had staked his claim for a call-up with real passion.

O’Neill was accompanied by Harry Redknapp for a game that could prove to be crucial to Ireland’s hopes of qualifying for the next World Cup, with Arter’s long-standing association with the former Spurs manager opening a door to a career changing conversation.

“The Redknapps are a family friends of mine and when I saw Harry walking across the car park with Martin O’Neill, I had to take the chance to introduce myself,” Arter told us, in an exclusive interview with The Sunday World.

“Harry’s son Mark has been a good mate of mine for a long time and my brother-in-law Scott Parker is big pals with his other son Jamie, so I have known Redknapps for many years.

“It was a chance meeting with Harry and Martin, but it turned out to be very useful because it gave me a chance to tell the manager about my ambitions to get into the Ireland squad.

“The manager was fully aware that I qualified through my grandparents and then came to watch me at Bournemouth a few weeks later.

“When he announced the next Ireland squad, I got my first call-up. It all happened very quickly after that first chance meeting.

“It is funny how these things work sometimes. I’m not sure if that car park encounter helped, but hopefully he could see how desperate I was to play for Ireland.”

O’Neill stated his desire to recruit players who qualify via the ‘Granny Rule’ shortly after his appointment as Ireland boss and while that mission has failed to reap the kind of dividends he had been hoping for, all that could change if Arter takes the chance being presented to him now.

An impressive display in Wednesday night’s friendly against Oman backed up his sparkling performance against Holland in May and ahead of Monday night’s World Cup qualifier against Serbia in Belgrade, Arter is emerging as a potential Ireland star in the making.

After the heartache of missing out on Euro 2016 with an injury that ruled him out of contention hours before he was set to be named in O’Neill’s squad, Arter could be ready to take centre-stage in the Ireland midfield.

At the age of 26, here is a young man who has battled his way back to the top after the chastening experience of failing to make the grade in the Premier League with Charlton to finally realise all of his dreams and his pride in playing for Ireland should never be doubted.

Even though he hails from south-east London and lacks the Irish accent that offers him instant authenticity, this is a footballer burning with desire to shine in a green shirt.

“I knew I would have to wait my turn to get into this Ireland team, but I was always looking at these World Cup qualifiers as the moment when I wanted to be in the mix,” he continued.

“There are a lot of players who have been part of the Ireland team for a good few years now and they were always going to be ahead of me in the manager’s pecking order, so I had to do all I could to impress him with Bournemouth and when I went over for the squad get-togethers.

“Hopefully he could see how much I was putting in to trying to make a mark with Ireland and if I get a chance in the qualifiers, I have to take it.”

Arter’s impact in his first start for Ireland against the Dutch (below) at the Aviva Stadium sparked suggestions that he could emerge as a starter for O’Neill at Euro 2016, only for injury to shatter his dreams at the last.

It was an especially cruel blow to a player who had put his body on the line in a bid to try and make Ireland’s squad for the trip to France, with his heartache evident in this story.

“I was gutted to pick up an injury that ruined my chances of going to France, of course I was, but the manager had to leave me out in the end and accepted the decision," he added.

“I might have been fit for the second game of the tournament against Belgium, there were already a few of the lads carrying knocks in the squad and they were senior players who had helped to get us through to the finals. 

“It was tough because I had put in so much work to get there. I could have had an operation to sort out an Achilles problem and it was a bit of a risk to carry on playing for Bournemouth in the final weeks of the season.

“I had an injection in the problem area, it calmed down a bit and got through to the end of the season and had a chance of getting into the Ireland squad, but it wasn’t to be in the end.

“I got a call from Martin O’Neill a week after he named the squad and he was very good about the whole situation and encouraged me to get myself fully fit and look forward to the future.

“It wasn’t too hard to move on from the Euros and look to the future. Everyone wants to play in a World Cup and I am no different.”