THE bags were all but packed and the family ready to go, but, instead, only Owain Tudur Jones will be off “galavanting”, leaving wife Nicola and their two daughters Hannah and Sara at home, their family holiday put on hold as dad answers the call of duty.
Although he’d been put on the stand-by list for Wales’ final two World Cup qualifying matches, the towering midfielder had anticipated enjoying the holiday from Scottish Premiership action occasioned by the latest international break by staying with friends in Bristol with a couple of rounds of golf, including one on 2010 Ryder Cup course Celtic Manor.
However, as a trickle of call-offs for the matches against Macedonia and Belgium turned into a flood, Tudur Jones found his status upgraded as Welsh boss Chris Coleman sent out a series of SOS messages to cover for the loss of eight players, including the likes of Gareth Bale, Joe Allen, Joe Ledley and Adam Matthews.
It may have caused a bit of an upheaval in the Tudur Jones’ household, but today the Hibs star insisted that, after a two-year absence from the international scene, he’s just delighted to have the opportunity to add to his six caps.
Tudur Jones, who made his Wales debut in the spring of 2008, said: “Throughout my career, whenever I have been involved with the Welsh set-up, forever long the gap might have been between call-ups, I have always been more than happy to join up with the squad and to give it all I have.
“My last caps were two years ago, against Northern Ireland and Scotland in the Carling Four Nations Cup in Dublin, and previously a couple of years before that. I’m looking forward to joining up, seeing some old friendly faces.
“I’d received an email to inform me I was one of the players on stand-by, but more often than not you are not needed, particularly for the first game in a double-header like this. However, the boys seem to have been dropping like flies and, as a result, it’s certainly not the squad Welsh fans are used to seeing.”
Tudur Jones agreed Coleman may not have had to contend with so many call-offs had Wales still been in a position to qualify for next summer’s finals in Rio. Instead, they sit bottom of Group A, with only the six points earned by victories home and away against Scotland to show, but with Gordon Strachan’s side having played a game more, he believes Wales can take advantage of Friday night’s clash with Macedonia in Cardiff to turn up the heat on the Scots.
He said: “Perhaps one or two of the boys have little niggles that they don’t want to make any worse, but if we’d still been able to qualify, I’m sure the manager would have been at them for one last push. As one door closes for some, another opens for guys like myself.
“While it’s impossible to fill the boots of some of the boys who will be missing – although I’ve been telling people I’m the ideal replacement for Gareth Bale but without his wages – it’s up every single one of us to go there, work hard and do the very best we can.
“People ask what’s in it for us over the last couple of qualifying games, but we most definitely must have Scotland in our sights. Macedonia are a point ahead of us and Scotland two in front, so a win on Friday night would see us leapfrog both of them, leaving us able to go away to Brussels for what is a tricky tie at the moment with a bit more confidence and a little less pressure on our shoulders.
“No-one wants to finish bottom of the group. There’s pride at stake and, moving forward to the next championships, there are seedings to consider, so we want to haul ourselves away from the foot of the table and finish a couple of places higher if we possibly can.”
Tudur Jones admitted even being on stand-by had been a bit of a surprise given a groin problem meant he’d missed four matches before making a half-hour appearance as a substitute as Pat Fenlon’s side defeated Partick Thistle to jump to joint fourth in the Scottish Premiership table.
Recalling how Kevin Thomson enjoyed a shock return for Scotland just 24 hours after turning out for Hibs’ East of Scotland team as he served a suspension in top flight football, the former Swansea City, Norwich City and Inverness Caley star said: “It did come a little out of the blue, but you have to realise the pool of players available to Wales isn’t vast. It’s not as if there are hundreds to choose from, but with a lot of the lads out it’s an opportunity for others like myself.
“The boys at Easter Road are getting a few days off thanks to the international matches and we’d planned to stay with friends in Bristol. I’d been looking forward to a couple of rounds of golf, one at Celtic Manor. I’d played there once before and didn’t do particularly well, so I was looking forward to giving it another bash.
“That’s been put on hold now. It’s great for me, but not great for my wife and kids, who will now be staying at home with the dog while I’ll be off galavanting and pretending to be working hard. Seriously, though, it’s part of the game and it’s a huge honour. We all like a day off whatever job we are in, but as it happens with the lads who have dropped out those of us who have come in, not just myself, have to step up to the mark and try to show the manager what we can do.”