Ward: don't write us off yet
Stephen Ward believes it's a mistake for anyone to write off Ireland's chances of Euro 2016 progression before a ball is kicked in Lille tonight.
And the Burnley man, boosted by club success which gives him a Premier League platform for next season, is adamant that this Irish side can recover from the bruising experience in Bordeaux last week and get the win they need to advance.
"We have had tough periods where people may have written us off but we have reacted to that by proving that we are capable of getting results when we need to," says Ward, hoping to keep his place in the starting XI.
"Throughout the group especially, we had a couple of results against Scotland which didn't go our way. From the outside people were saying it was a three-horse race and we weren't named among the runners.
"But throughout the squad and from the management, there was always this belief and confidence that we could do it," added Ward.
"We all know we still have a massive chance of qualifying. We have had big results before and there is no reason why we can't go and get another big one again."
It has been hard to shake off the bad memories of Bordeaux on Saturday, he admits. "We don't tend to dwell on things that don't go right for us for too long anyway because it can really affect you," he says.
"If there is one thing we have in the squad, it is a good camaraderie and strong characters. Don't get me wrong, it hurts when you have a defeat. But we have got to be ready for this game. We have to get ourselves right, be positive as we always are. Think back to the group stage, it was tough then. So we have to make sure we get ourselves ready."
Three of Ward's 34 caps have come against Italy and its been a mixed bag: one disaster (that 2-0 loss in Poznan at Euro 2012), a win (in a friendly in Belgium) and a draw (in London).
"I think we had a decent result against them at Craven Cottage. We could have won it. I think we hit the crossbar a few times," Ward recalls.
"So we have done well against them in the past. People will speak about them being qualified and whatever, but they are still an Italian side and it will still be a big task. We've proved before that we can get big results on big occasions against the best sides. Obviously it didn't go the way we wanted the other day, but we have got belief in ourselves that we can get a result."
"Their players want to go out and give the manager a headache. They know they are in the next round and whatever players come in, they are a top-quality side. They'll have a point to prove to the manager, so sometimes that can be a risk as well. No matter what team goes out there, we'll have to be on our game and be wary of them."