Wednesday 26 October 2016

Stephen wards off the negatives of demotion to end season on a high

Stephen Ward leads out Ireland in yesterday's friendly
Stephen Ward leads out Ireland in yesterday's friendly

AS he steels himself for a season of second-tier football next season, Stephen Ward hopes that some international success over the next week can put a gloss on what's been a difficult season.

Sadly, more members of the current Ireland squad suffered relegation than won medals in the club season, with Ward (Burnley), Paul McShane, David Meyler, Stephen Quinn and Robbie Brady (Hull), David Forde (Millwall) and James McClean (Wigan) all suffering relegation with their clubs.

His own club's demotion from the Premier League was especially hard on Ward, due to the bad timing of a bad injury. He had just won a place in the starting XI under Seán Dyche but got injured, against Newcastle United in December, and in the last six months of the season he would make only two appearances, as sub and he was a spectator as the Clarets got relegated.

"It's a nice distraction coming in here," says Ward, hoping to win back his left-back slot having missed out against Poland due to injury.

"Obviously it has been a tough season for most of the players, but the most important thing is coming in here and doing a job for your country.

"That's the main focus now. Obviously you chat about what might have been, what went wrong and what might have happened, but it's a massive couple of weeks for us and we need to make sure we are right on top of things. We don't have another game for a couple of months, so it will be a real marker to lay down if we can get a result against Scotland," Ward added.

"You want to leave on a positive note. It's a bit like at club level - you want to leave on a positive. Obviously I know we got relegated but we finished quite strong and a lot of the lads will think the same."

Robbie Brady filled in at left full against Poland, with mixed results, and Ward - despite his lack of first team football in the last six months - will certainly be in Martin O'Neill's thoughts for England and Scotland.

"To be honest I'm happy to be here and if I can get a run-out I can give the manager a headache. We've got a good squad here and the best thing about it is everyone is in it together, no matter who plays. Everyone wants to work hard and push each other. Whoever goes out there on the day, everyone will be behind them," says Ward.

"Obviously Robbie Brady is a great option for us there as well. It's not one where people get too downhearted if they are not playing; we are all in here together. You see the way we trained out there, we push ourselves and we train with a really high intensity. That can only benefit the starting eleven against Scotland."

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