Ward: squad will deliver
STEPHEN WARD has dismissed the theory that this Ireland team is not good enough to compete in the finals of a major tournament and the defender believes that the side will show their true worth at the World Cup finals in Brazil in two years' time.
Ireland's players were today back with their families and heading for the beaches for a holiday after a four-week spell in camp with the squad, which included those three bruising defeats at Euro 2012.
The fact that Ireland were so outclassed in all three games has led to calls in some quarters that the manager should forget about trying to qualify for the next World Cup because the side is just not good enough to compete and instead build a new squad capable of being ready for Euro 2016, but Ward feels that the current panel, with some tweaks, could deliver in Brazil in two years' time.
"I don't think there is too much wrong with this squad, to be honest. We were good enough to qualify from a hard qualifying group and come through a play-off so there is some talent there," Ward told the Evening Herald.
"I think we have some exciting young players coming through and if some of them can come in for the next campaign then we have a chance. It is hard to step up to the senior squad but we have some lads who can do it. The World Cup is next up and compared to the Euros, you have a much better chance of getting out of your group and into the knock-out stages, and once you get into the knock-out phase anything can happen.
"The positives we can take from the tournament are that we have experience at this level now and maybe we can learn from it ahead of the next campaign, for the World Cup in Brazil.
"The teams we played showed their class against us so we can try to work out ways of beating them.
"We had a very hard group at the Euros, we still felt we could come here and do well but it didn't turn out that way.
"The positives from Monday night are that we can still put up a fight and show a bit of spirit when we need it.
"We did feel battered and bruised after the game on Monday, but the Italy game was a lot better than the previous two, a lot more like the real us. We were still on the end of another defeat but looking back on it all now people just need to realise that we played three top teams in our group and they were too much for us," added Ward, who hopes to retain his place in the panel.
"I'd certainly hope to stay in the squad. I feel I have acquitted myself well, it's just unfortunate that we didn't defend well enough as a unit and lost the three games. Hopefully I will come back from this a better player," he added, also praising Keith Andrews as Ireland's main man in Poland.
"Keith had a great tournament and he was one of the lads who shone for us and led the way.
"He was probably our player of the tournament. We all gave everything we had but Keith stood out in the way he led the show in midfield and led by example, and he was unlucky with the red card.
"There was a lot of needle in the match in the last ten minutes or so but I think that was frustration. A lot of decisions went against us and we're not used to these referees, where you get penalised for the slightest thing. You can't even nudge into a player without it being a free kick against you."