Look on the Bright side
Ward 'excited' by return under new Irish regime after Seagulls loan deal
IT WAS like the first day at school for the 24-strong Ireland squad at their first training session under the new management team of Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane.
For Stephen Ward, it was a fresh start in a number of ways as the Portmarnock man is back in the fold with the national team after a spell out in the cold – his last cap was 12 months ago. He is getting to grips with international football again, as well as getting to know the new boss and his high-profile assistant.
"I think the profile they have is massive in the game, so you come in with a little bit of excitement and nervousness that you have when any new managers coming in to a set up. Everyone wants to impress," says Ward.
"There seems to be a massive interest. I think it's great. It's probably exactly what we needed and hopefully we can have a successful time.
"As the manager says, it's a new era, a fresh start. Everyone is happy to be here. These names were thrown about straight after the previous manager had gone. It's a massive appointment, two really big names in Irish football and it's what we needed after having a manager of the calibre of Giovanni Trapattoni and I think it's exactly what the team needed.
"We've only had one training session. I don't know how much they want to change or what they want to do, but we have these two games and the friendlies coming up before the actual qualifying starts, so they've got time on their hands to get things right and get their philosophy across. Obviously that will start to happen over the next few days."
For Ward, just being back involved with Ireland again is welcome. His last involvement was for the friendly against Poland in February, while he most recently played in the home game against Greece last November.
"It's good to be back," he reflects, aware this his fellow Wolves man Kevin Doyle is also in favour again.
"You're obviously disappointed when you're not in the squad, but I'm enjoying my football again and that coincides with getting back in the squad, which is nice.
"Football's a strange game. Me and Doyler chatted about it at Wolves. It was a tough time for us. It wasn't a great year. The club was in a strange period. I was disappointed obviously to not be involved, but you don't let it affect you as much as you want to be involved. It's not great when your club is having a tough time. Maybe he (Trapattoni) thought that, psychologically, it wasn't great to be coming into the Ireland set-up.
"Listen, it was the toughest time of my career in terms. We were in the Premier League and one year later we were fighting relegation. It was a strange time at the club. We had new managers coming and it was hard for them to come in and change the style of play. I just tried to work hard and play well. I was disappointed that we got relegated. That was a big disappointment for last year, but now as I say it's a fresh start for me moving away. It's a new club, a new philosophy. I'm enjoying the way they play and I've got a spring back in my step, definitely."
Ward hopes that two events in the last few months – his exit from Wolves with a move to Brighton and now his recall to the national team – signal an end to the bad times.
"I was still playing in the Championship, but I just wasn't getting called in," he says of his time out in the cold under Trapattoni.
"It was a tough time with Wolves and obviously you suffer the consequences sometimes when your club isn't doing so well. To move away and get a fresh start is nice and I'm really enjoying my time down at Brighton. I'd been at Wolves for seven years or so, it was a mutual decision.
"The club wanted to move on players that had been there for a while and obviously, with the club getting relegated, it needed a bit of a change and a bit of a freshen up. It's great to see them doing so well, with a lot of younger lads coming through, so yeah, it was something I think I needed to do," he says, pleased to secure that season-long loan move to Brighton, though he still has another full season on his Wolves contract at the end of this season.
"It was a bit complicated at the end because sometimes clubs, as much as they feel you need to move on, they don't always make it as easy for you to go as maybe it looks on the outside, so when it did eventually come around, I was pleased to go.
"I'm enjoying it there. The stadium is fantastic, we're getting 27-28 thousand every week, they've got a new £20m training ground, so it's going in the right direction."