Harry Arter abused by Ireland fans following U-turn rumour

SoccerBy Kevin Palmer
Harry Arter playing for Ireland against Oman at the Aviva Stadium in August
Harry Arter playing for Ireland against Oman at the Aviva Stadium in August

IT was as Harry Arter left the cinema last Thursday night that he briefly questioned why he was devoting his heart and soul to becoming a Republic of Ireland hero.

With rumours swirling suggesting he was being encouraged to accept a call-up to England’s squad, Arter kept his silence as he didn’t feel any need to add weight to a story that gathered momentum over the course of the last week.

Ireland assistant boss Roy Keane had his say on the issue and manager Martin O’Neill then offered his version of events, yet the man in the eye of the storm decided he would look in on the circus without jumping on board with comments of his own.

Yet the mood around this story was transformed as the Bournemouth midfielder, who has been one the best performers in the Premier League this season, dipped his toe into social media.

“I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” Arter told the Sunday World, in an exclusive interview.

“These were Irish people who had looked at a few newspaper stories and come to the conclusion that I was about to go and play for England.

“I never said that was happening and my stance on the whole story was I didn’t need to comment on something that was little more than a rumour.

“Then I see these Twitter messages and, honestly, it was the only time that I have ever had a thought that maybe I shouldn’t bother playing for Ireland.

“The messages were just vile. I was shocked by what people who sending my way.

“Honestly, I had to check that someone had not hacked my account and put a message on there to inspire this reaction.

“This was personal stuff, really nasty. If my missus had seen it she would have been upset as well and you wonder how people can sit there and write this stuff.

“A lot of the messages have now been deleted, which says all you need to know about the people that thought it was a good idea to write them in the first place.”

In many ways, the last few days have been a crash course for Arter in the raw emotions that can lie under the surface when an English-born player tries to forge his career in Irish green.

Any hint of wavering in dedication tends to spark a violent reaction, yet Arter has not for one moment suggested he is considering ‘switching sides’ and declaring for England.

So anyone who used the anonymity of his Twitter name to type out hate in the direction of a classy sportsman, who went through losing his firstborn child at birth last December, should hang their head in shame.

It was behaviour that would force anyone to question their future plans, but this mature young man has already put their actions into context.

Now the midfielder, who should have already been installed as one of the first names on the Ireland team-sheet long ago, is already looking to a competitive future that he hopes will quickly end the uncertainly over his international career.

Almost two years have passed since Arter bumped into Ireland boss O’Neill in a car park at Fulham’s Craven Cottage ground and declared his passionate desire to be part of his squad.

O’Neill swiftly drafted the player who qualifies for Ireland through his Sligo-born grandmother and his journey towards what he hopes is a long and successful Boys in Green career began.

No-one should doubt Arter’s passion to play for the Irish team, with the injuries that have disrupted his hopes of earning regular starts in the last year untimely interventions that could not have been avoided.

Arter’s availability for last month’s opening World Cup qualifier against Serbia was the ideal opportunity for him to launch his international career in earnest.

With James McCarthy out injured, O’Neill had a top class Premier League replacement ready to fill the void and yet he opted to play Robbie Brady in central midfield instead.

O’Neill then compounded his error by throwing Reading’s Stephen Quinn into the fray when Ireland pushed for a late equaliser in Belgrade, leaving the squad’s in-form player sitting on the bench.

Only the Ireland boss can explain how that scenario came to pass, with O’Neill responsible for the Arter debate this week as he had his chance to pick the Bournemouth man to start in a competitive qualifier.

The end result has been a week of questions around Arter’s future with Ireland, when they should have been focused on what a big loss his absence is for the team for two vital World Cup qualifiers.

Arter has won praise from all observers this season, with the comments from his new team-mate Jack Wilshere alerting those to the form of this 26-year-old midfield maestro.

“He is definitely up there with some of the better midfielders I’ve played with,” stated Wilshere.

“If he wants to, I’m sure he could go onto bigger clubs.”

They were comments that reverberated through the football grapevine, with Arter’s availability for a call-up to the England team fuelling inevitable rumours that one of the jewels in the Irish crown may be snatched away.

But this is not a repeat of the Jack Grealish saga, as months of speculation over the international future of the Aston Villa youngster ended with him picking England over Ireland.

Grealish could be written off as lost potential, but Arter is a player for the here and now.

At a time when Ireland are sadly lacking in quality Premier League performers, O’Neill needs to build his team around Arter from this point forward.

Arter is hopeful of shaking off the hamstring injury that ruled him out of Ireland’s game against Georgia last Thursday and today’s trip to Moldova to play in the Premier League for Bournemouth next weekend.

After that, he will set his sights on starting for Ireland against Austria in Vienna next month.

O’Neill and Ireland would be wrong to resist his charms for too much longer.