Monday 24 October 2016

No need to fear our Euro rivals

Stephen Ward is confident Ireland can get out of Group E next June in France
Stephen Ward is confident Ireland can get out of Group E next June in France
Euro 2016 draw in Paris

It took a long, long time for the pain of that spanking inflicted on Ireland in Poland in 2012 to clear, and for some the ache has yet to go away.

But following the draw for the finals of Euro 2016, which has, of course, put Ireland in a group alongside Sweden, Belgium and Italy, within the squad there is a genuine feeling that progress out of the group can come Ireland's way.

Lessons have been learned and at this early stage there's no sign of the pre-2012 bravado, where some figures in the Ireland camp suggested that a punt on the Republic winning the tournament, at odds of 80/1, was a decent investment.

But for Stephen Ward, a survivor from the debacle in Poland, that win over world champions Germany has given Ireland genuine reason to believe that the knock-out stages could be in reach.

"The draw could have been better and it could have been worse.

"We have three good sides in our group but we have proved that we play against some of the best teams in Europe and compete with them so you just have to take what you're given in the draw, then go there and compete, get through the group at least," Ward told The Herald after taking in the ramifications of Saturday's draw.

"I don't think there is any side we would fear.

"A lot can change in the six months leading up to the tournament, players can hit form or lose form so I wouldn't be too stressed about any individuals at this stage. There's a long way to go even before the squad is named so until then we'll all be working hard at our clubs to do well and stay in the manager's mind for June, make sure we are fit and on top form for the start.

"We showed against Germany that we can deliver against a top side so I see no reason why we can't do it again," added Ward, who was not glued to a TV set to see the draw live on Saturday, the Dubliner instead spending Saturday evening on the Burnley team coach on the road back north from London after the Clarets' 0-0 draw away to QPR, Ward again an unused sub, to his frustration.

"You have to take each team individually and not look at the group as a whole as each team in the group has different strengths and weaknesses.

"That's what the manager has stressed to us, that we can get a result against anyone if we work hard and prepare well, as we did against Germany.

"No one expected us to take four points off the world champions in the qualifiers but we did, so you can't think too much about where you will get your points in a major tournament.

"But if we can get off to a start with a win against Sweden we'd be in a great position to qualify and that will be the main focus when it comes around. I think Sweden are quite similar to us, the squads are very alike and I think that people outside of the two countries would see us in the same vein.

"Belgium are a good team, we know that, with some great players, but we're excited to be there, we know that all the teams will have some real quality so our manager and his backroom staff will do their homework to make sure that the side we have out for that first game in Paris is well-prepared.


"Belgium have come on leaps and bounds in the last few years but Wales did well against them in the group stage. If we were playing the likes of Spain or Germany people would give us no hope but I see Belgium as a game we can get something out of," added Ward, mindful of what happened in 2012.

"I think we will learn from the last tournament we were in. This manager and his staff do things their own way as it is, there are things that will be changed for the better, that's the manager's call, he will speak to the senior players like Robbie and John O'Shea and get their input.

"I certainly can't see us losing three games like we did in 2012, I think this group looks a bit kinder to us than 2012.

"It will be tough but I can see us getting out of the group so we go there with confidence and it's exciting for us all, not something to be worried about."

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