Harry Arter could earn his eighth cap for the Republic of Ireland on Tuesday night – and the Bournemouth midfielder hopes he has now won over both the supporters and his team-mates.
Arter, born in London to English parents but eligible for Ireland through his grandparents, played for the Ireland U16, U17 and U19 youth teams, but he acknowledges not everyone will have been happy when he was first called up for the full side in 2015.
“I think it is harder for players with an English background making it into the Ireland side and maybe rightly so,” he says.
“If Ireland can get homegrown players who have come through the League of Ireland and gone on to play in the Premier League in England, then that is a great story.
“If I was born in Ireland, come all the way through the ranks and had earned my chance on the international stage, it would probably annoy me that an English-born player was getting in ahead of me because he was playing for a better club at the time.”
Injuries have hindered Arter’s chances of truly establishing himself in Martin O’Neill’s team over the past couple of years, but he started the 1-1 draw against Georgia and hopes to keep his place for the crucial World Cup qualifier against Serbia despite being substituted in Tbilisi.
Whatever happens, Arter hopes those that initially doubted his commitment to the national team have since been won over.
“There comes a point where a player should be picked on merit,” he says. “Hopefully now I have shown that I am totally committed to Ireland and determined to do all I can to get our country to the World Cup finals next summer.
“Any new player coming into a squad at club level or on the international stage has to prove themselves and I had a few problems around the time of Ireland games that probably didn’t help my cause.
“Injuries tended to come up at the wrong moment and it was frustrating to see a few stories doubting my commitment to the Ireland cause, but that was never the case from my point of view.
“I was desperate to get into that team and hopefully the performance we put in as a collective unit to win the away game in Austria last November showed that I have something to offer this team.
“I have had to bide my time to get into the team, but I worked hard and now feel like I’m a big part of the manager’s plans.”
It is not only supporters Arter feels he has had to convince, with the 27-year-old admitting he did not immediately feel at home in the dressing room, but he’s fully on board now and has been relishing this international break.
“I found it difficult when I first met up with the Ireland squad. I’d been at Bournemouth for seven years, knew everyone at the club and have always felt a part of it.
“So it was a new experience going into a squad of senior international players who all knew each other and trying to fit in with them all. It was like…wow, this feels very different.
“The lads have said to me since then that they thought I was a bit shy and stuck up at first, but that is my personality. I can be shy around new people and it took me a bit of time to feel a part of it.
“But the Ireland squad is packed with a great bunch of lads and I had been looking forward to these next two World Cup qualifiers for a long time
“Ireland may not be a top nation on the international stage, but we have a team spirit that allows up to be competitive against just about anyone. That is how I feel. The lads in that Ireland dressing room are all united behind the cause and it is great to be a part of it. It is very special and that should never be taken out of the Irish DNA.
“I feel we have a different atmosphere compared to any other nation. Austria probably have players at bigger clubs than us, but we were better than them in Vienna and that is probably because we wanted it more and were more passionate about our cause.”
Ireland do not need to rely on passion alone, of course, and in Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane they have a coaching team with the full respect and support of the dressing room.
“He is a manager who takes a lot in without needing to interact with the players too much,” Arter says of O’Neill. “He will see things in training and may not tell you his thoughts straight away, but he will bring it up when the time is right.
“Later in the week, he will pull you up and say that he saw something in training on a Monday that he didn’t like and you are still doing it now. He is like the all-seeing eyes at the training ground.
“Roy Keane takes most of the training sessions. You have so much respect for him as a player and a person, and he is different with the lads from what we see of him in the media.
“He is very passionate about football, which I love. I wonder whether he gets frustrated at times because he played at such a high level in his own career and now he is working with players who may not be able to replicate what he could do himself.
“It must be hard to understand why players cannot do what came easily to him.”
By Kevin Palmer