EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW - Ireland new-boy Harry Arter
REPUBLIC of Ireland new-boy Harry Arter turned down the chance to play for England, as he set his heart on fulfilling his international dreams in a green shirt long ago.
Arter, who qualifies for Ireland through his grandparents, has been training with the senior Ireland squad for the first time this week ahead of Sunday's crucial Euro 2016 qualifier against Poland and even though he was born in England, there was never any doubt that he would commit his international future to Ireland.
“As I made my way through the ranks at Charlton, the FAI got in touch with me and invited me to come and play in the junior Irish teams,” begins Arter, in an exclusive Sunday World interview.
"I had a chance to play for England at junior level, but I had already been called over to play for Ireland by then and there was never any doubt that I would change that path. I wanted to play for Ireland from the off and I'm proud to be where I am now.
"I have always felt a loyalty to Ireland and not just because I’ve got so much family in the country and having spent many a happy summer holiday in Ireland when I was a kid, it’s always felt like my country.
“From the age of around six until I was a teenager, we used to go to Sligo for the six-week school holidays every year and I just loved the place.
"It wasn’t far away in terms of distance, but it was so different to what I was used to in England.
“Everything about Ireland appealed to me. The relaxed way of life,the friendly nature of the people,I just fell in love with Ireland and having so many relatives there made it easy for me to feel a part of it all.
“I only have good memories of those times, so the idea of playing for England has never been on my radar. I want to play for Ireland, I have always wanted that.”
Arter’s comments will be music to O’Neill’s ears as only last week, the Ireland boss stated he would not go chasing players who are wavering in their decision in committing to Ireland.
Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish and Chelsea starlet Patrick Bamford are among those who have been linked with Ireland calls, yet the delay in their decision to commit to O’Neill’s squad suggests their loyalty may be more of the convenient variety.
Not so Arter, as the 25-year-old brother-in-law off former England midfielder Scott Parker is ever inch the kind of player O’Neill has been looking to snap up.
A fine passer of the ball and oozing with energy, Arter also has the ability to fire goals from distance as his sensational long-rang strike against Ipswich last week highlighted, before scoring another cracker as Bournemouth soared to the top of the Championship standings.
Yet this appears a humble young man who is no expecting his arrival in the Ireland squad to be followed by an instant run in O’Neill’s team, as he was keen to play down the imminent prospect of emerging as a key figure in an Irish midfield that has lacked an inventive spark for many a year.
“I was playing non-league and international is far from that. I was a young boy then and my main focus was to work as hard as I could and get back to a level I thought I could play at," he continued.
“I'm confident in my own ability and this is a level I feel I'm capable of playing at. The key to that is working hard and not resting on your laurels. From the age of 19 up until now I haven't done that. I'm going to continue to work hard and hopefully reach the top.
“When I arrived here, the first thing I was looking forward to doing was training. It was a good session. There are top, top players here. I wasn't sure what to expect because obviously it's my first time. What I expected was quality and that is what I saw today.
“There are fantastic players in the centre of midfield, playing at a level where I want to get to. It'll be a good experience playing and training with them. Ultimately it'll be good to test myself against them.”
Arter’s Ireland call-up completes quite a rise to prominence for a player who has been a pivotal figure in Bournemouth’s improbable climb up the Football League ladder in England, with the south coast club within sight of what would be a remarkable elevation to the richest league in world football.
“The idea of Bournemouth playing in the Premier League might seem strange to some people, but not to any of us who are trying to make it happen,” added Arter of a side that have topped the Championship division for long spells this season.
“From a personal point of view, I always wanted to get into the Premier League and play international football for Ireland.
“While it has taken me a long time to get into a position where it might happen, the next few months could turn all that inter reality.
“We are a good side, we have hungry players who want to achieve things and we have a great manager. Overall, we have proved we are a match for most teams in the Championship and if Bournemouth are playing Premier League football next season, we will have earned the right to be there.”
All of Arter’s goals could become reality in the next few weeks and if his potential can be unleashed in an Ireland side crying out for a sprinkling of genuine creativity, his recruitment could just be one of the more significant developments in the O’Neill era.