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Saturday 10 December 2016

Clark to cast off the burden of relegation and focus on Euro spot

Ciaran Clark
Ciaran Clark
Richard Keogh, training with the Republic of Ireland squad

The last time Ireland played at the European Championship finals, a batch of players from Wolves came into the camp on the back of a demoralising season of relegation.

Ciaran Clark's club will be playing in the second tier of the English game next season.

And while it's not certain that the defender, reportedly a £6million target for West Brom, will still be a Villain in the Championship when it all kicks off in August, there's no doubt that demotion from the Premier League is a burden which the 26-year-old hopes will be lifted from his shoulders by the time Euro 2016 starts.

Clark is unlikely to start in the opening game against Sweden. John O'Shea and Richard Keogh are the men in possession at centre back but the Villa man acquitted himself well when called upon in the qualifying campaign, especially in the play-off defeat of Bosnia, so he could come into the frame at some point.

"I have to park it, it's done now, I have have to concentrate on the tournament ahead and hopefully over the next few weeks stay fit, get in as much training as possible and get on the plane.

"What's happened has happened and I will try and forget about it and concentrate on what's coming up," says Clark, one of the few Villa players who emerged from last season with any credit.

"It was hard, relegation was the last thing I wanted but it's a reality. We have to face the facts now and for me it's about forgetting about that now and concentrating on what's to come and after that getting my head back on to the situation at club level," added Clark.

He regrets the fact that Villa were gone without a fight with weeks still to go in the Premier League season.

"I think that was the most disappointing thing, really. The other clubs, Norwich, Sunderland and Newcastle were all fighting to the last couple of games whereas we were done fairly early. So it was hard to take in the last few weeks of the season, they were a bit of a nightmare, to be honest.

Motivation

"I think we can take that next season and look it at it, hopefully use that as motivation to get back into the Premier League," said Clark, who feels that Ireland duty over the last year was a welcome escape from the trials at Villa Park.

"During the season it was nice to come away and be part of the squad, it was a break away. You can unwind from club level and focus on something else.

"But it's all about concentrating on these upcoming games," added Clark, full of praise for Meath man Kevin Toner, who broke into the Villa side at the end of last season .

Barring injury, Clark will make it into the 23-man squad for the finals, a contrast to 2012 when he got the 'thanks but no thanks' phone call.

"At the time I obviously had played a few games, I was only fresh on the scene here and it's one of those things, I never expected to be a part of it at all," he recalls.

"To be a part of it would have been fantastic for me and a great achievement but I remember I got the call and he told me I wasn't going to be involved and I said, 'It's not a problem'.

"I didn't expect to be and that was that. I just used that as a motive to try and make sure that I'd be involved in the next ones."

Four years on from the horrors of Poland, the 2016 set-up is not as rigid as 2012, so squad players like Clark have more of a chance of playing.

"There are lads who can play in different positions and there are fresh faces coming into every squad," says Clark.

"The squad is very open and nothing is in concrete. It could be one team the first game and a totally different team the next. We'll just have to see and take it from there, but that can only be a good thing with all the competition for places."

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