herald

Saturday 24 June 2017

Ward wary of Austria

Ireland defender Stephen Ward in action against Uruguay’s Jonathan Urretaviscaya. Pic: Sportsfile
Ireland defender Stephen Ward in action against Uruguay’s Jonathan Urretaviscaya. Pic: Sportsfile

Confidence is flowing through the veins of Irish football again and a handy three points at home to a weakened and demoralised Austrian side on Sunday is not only demanded but expected.

But Ireland veteran Stephen Ward has warned against over-confidence ahead of Sunday's key qualifier, even though the visitors come to town missing two of their key players and with a question mark over the fitness of their talisman, David Alaba.

Austria will be without Stoke City's Marco Arnautovic and Stefan Ilsanker and their Swiss-born coach Marcel Koller will almost certainly be asked to pack his bags and go home to Switzerland if the side lose on Sunday.

Underestimate

But Ward, who has missed all three of the recent clashes with Austria due to injury, is wary of the men from Vienna despite the loss of key attacker Arnautovic.

"Listen, they'll have quality coming in, they're a good side," says the defender.

Burnley midfielder Jeff Hendrick in training for Ireland ahead of Sunday’s World Cup qualifier against Austria. Pic: Sportsfile
Burnley midfielder Jeff Hendrick in training for Ireland ahead of Sunday’s World Cup qualifier against Austria. Pic: Sportsfile

"I don't think you can underestimate anyone in this group, it is so tight. There are five teams, Moldova are the team you would expect to beat but everyone has got a chance.

"We can't take anything for granted. The onus is going to be on us in front of the home fans so you know we need to be mentally prepared for the best they can bring."

But Ward admits that morale in the Irish camp is high after Sunday's win over Uruguay, a big improvement on last week's tame loss to Mexico.

"Uruguay are a good side and we thought we played well, the most important result is next Sunday but it's nice to get a win in front of the fans here and we've got a big week now on the back of a good result," says Ward. "We've got a big week now and the lads will be raring to go next Sunday."

Throughout the history of the national team, the Irish side has, at times, been backboned by a clutch of players from one club. In John Giles' last game as Ireland boss (1980) he picked three players from Arsenal (John Devine, David O'Leary, Frank Stapleton), while in the 2-0 defeat to Holland in the 1994 World Cup, the Irish side had four Aston Villa men in the starting XI.

And more than once in Mick McCarthy's time as boss he picked a four-strong Leeds United contingent (Gary Kelly, Ian Harte, Robbie Keane and Stephen McPhail).

So the sight of four Burnley players in the side which beat Uruguay last Sunday was not unusual but for one of those Clarets, Ward, it was a good sign of club unity crossing over into the national team, Kevin Long the latest graduate.

"It's great. Obviously the two lads signed are massive for us, Hendrick and Brady, two quality players," says Ward.

"It's great for me playing with Robbie and Jeff week in, week out but you have that understanding connection and friendship - if that can give you an extra edge for Ireland when we're all on at the same time, then great.

"It's nice to see Kevin get a chance as well. He's waited a long time to get a chance at Burnley and he's been patient. It was nice for him.

"He's a steady guy, a nice guy, he works hard and he's been a bit unlucky not to get a chance really. It's been tough for him.

"The two (Burnley) centre halves were playing well and I'm sure the last month will give him confidence and he'll want to come back next season and challenge and get more game time.

Boost

"He's as good as anybody out there. As I say, the lads who have the shirts have been playing so well, it's difficult to get a chance. Sometimes that's football. I'm sure that this has given him the big boost that he's needed."

While some players in the Ireland squad now need a boost after a tough season at club level, Ward is on a high after what was the best campaign of his career to date, as he missed only one game (through injury) in a decent Premier League campaign and the stats show he was in the top 20 of players across the league in terms of game time.

"I've had good season before in the Championship but at that level (Premier League), it's great," says Ward.

"I've enjoyed it. But I want to kick on and be ready for these games and have a rest and go into next season and hopefully do the same."

Promoted articles

Entertainment News