Happy Ward is back in from the cold
It's already shaping up to be a happy new year for Stephen Ward after the Ireland defender came in from the cold and boosted his Euro 2016 hopes by winning back his place at club level.
And with David Forde also enjoying a mid-season revival at Millwall, Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane will be keeping an eye on a batch of cup ties in England over the next week to check for updates on other hopefuls.
Marc Wilson has featured in just one of Stoke City's last 14 Premier League games, as a sub, so tonight's League Cup semi-final clash with Liverpool offers the 28-year-old a rare chance to impress and Wilson, who didn't make the cut for the Euro 2012 squad, needs a run of games at club level in the coming months to stay in the thoughts of the Ireland manager.
The League Cup could also offer a rare opportunity to Everton duo Darron Gibson and Aiden McGeady, as the pair hope to be included in the squad at least for tomorrow's semi-final against Manchester City - though the fact that Gibson didn't get onto the field, and that McGeady failed to even make the bench for the Toffees' last game in the competition, a 2-0 win over Middlesbrough last month, is bad sign for the out-of-favour Ireland internationals.
Ward had been frustrated with his situation at Burnley as he spent the first half of the season on the bench at Burnley, and he had expressed his wish to leave on loan when the January transfer window opened, especially as Robbie Brady has now emerged as a real option at left back for Ireland. But Clarets boss Sean Dyche has freshed up his side in the last week and Ward was put into the side for their last two games, Ward playing a role as Burnley kept back to back clean sheets.
"It's nice to be back and play a few games," said Ward, hoping to see more action in the weekend FA Cup game against Middlesbrough.
"It's probably a welcome break from the league and it might be chance for some players to get minutes. It's a tough draw but we'll approach it as we do every game and hopefully we can go up there and win it.
"Everyone wants to play whatever competition it is. We've got a great squad here and whatever the manager decides we'll be well prepared and good enough to win it."