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Ward: Euro call-up would top it all off

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Stephen Ward fields question from the media at Turner's Cross Photo: Sportsfile

Stephen Ward fields question from the media at Turner's Cross Photo: Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Stephen Ward fields question from the media at Turner's Cross Photo: Sportsfile

Winning the Championship title in England, and with it promotion to the Premier League, is no mean feat for unfashionable Burnley, and it's no wonder that the Clarets squad celebrated that achievement with a club trip to Las Vegas.

The partying was delayed for a key member of that squad as Stephen Ward eschewed the bright lights in Nevada and instead had a quiet break with the family, part of his own preparation for Euro 2016, and the Dubliner admits that sealing a place in Ireland's 23-man squad for Euro 2016 is the only way that a good season can be made even better.

The Ireland camp will be infested with nerves all day today, right up until the 11.0pm deadline when Martin O'Neill has to finalise his 23-strong travelling party for France. Ward is one of those players who is almost certain to travel - after all, the Ireland gaffer trusted him to start in the games against Germany and Bosnia even though he was out of sorts at club level.

But until Ward is told for certain, most likely after the conclusion of tonight's game with Belarus here in Cork, that he's made it in, he won't relax.

"Lads are kept on their toes and if you ask the lads, I think tomorrow morning, either way, they will be glad it's out and you know who is going," says Ward, hoping to feature against Belarus, having been an unused sub in last week's draw with Holland.

"There is that sort of feeling around the camp but we have a lot of competition and lads have come in fresh. It's been a good week or 10 days and the manager will have all that in his thoughts and with the game coming up tonight, we want to go out and impress.

Selection

"Everyone has the squad selection on their minds but first we have a match that we want to win, it's in the manager's hands in terms of the squad selection.

"We've got a number of players that have played their part, the manager has been fair to everyone and given everyone a chance to stake their claim. There's another game tonight and once that's over, we'll be waiting in the wings to see who is in.

"There will be disappointment for some and obviously elation for others so I suppose it's part and parcel of the game, but the manager has given everyone their chance and at the end of the day the decision lies with him so he'll pick the squad he feels is right. For myself, until the squad is in black and white, and out, you never know as anything can happen.

"I just want to get some minutes under my belt. I've been happy with my season but the manager will pick his squad whatever ways he sees is best," added Ward, on a high after a season which saw his club win promotion.

That was a big success for the under-rated Burnley but also a big boost for Ward, who barely played for the Clarets in the first half of the season and was on the verge of leaving on loan, before he worked his way into the side in December and stayed there.

"It was a very frustrating first part of the season, I didn't play a lot but once I got in, it was great and the run we went on with Burnley was outstanding, the season doesn't get any better than winning the league, it was nice to play a part in it.

"It's nice for me to be in the Premier League and for me to be in that 23 would top off a great season, but I won't start thinking about the Premier League until the work here is done," he says.

Chance

"I came very close to getting out [of Burnley] in December but the manager was very good to me, he gave me my chance, and this [making the Euros squad] would top it off," added Ward, aware that two club-mates (Sam Vokes and Tom Heaton) are already off to the Euros, though he did skip that jaunt to Vegas.

"I was getting a few videos when I was getting a jog in down the beach. But I would prefer to be here than on holiday, obviously," he jokes. "We had a couple of celebratory nights with the Burnley squad but I was very conscious of coming in here.

"The squad went away to Vegas, I went away with the missus and kids, we had a wedding to go to so we just relaxed. I kept myself ticking over to make sure I was right coming in here."

There's a different mood music around this squad, compared to 2012 when everyone knew well in advance which 23-man squad and then starting XI which Giovanni Trapattoni could pick.

"It is quite different. That just shows the contribution that a lot of players have made during qualification," says Ward. "Lads have come in and done well and played their part in games. Everyone deserves this chance to stake a claim.

"I'm coming into it on the back of a great end to the season. At the start of the year it was frustrating not playing, coming off the back of my injury last year but I was very patient and tried to keep myself in the best physical condition.

"You can't beat playing games and being out there on a Saturday. Getting into the side at Christmas turned things for me and going on to win the league, I don't think I could have asked for a better season," added Ward, ready to play in Cork for the first time since his Bohemians days 10 years ago. "We have a lot of players who are fighting not only for the shirt but squad positions, so there's a nice edge to it and, hopefully, that can come on to the pitch tonight."