Ward seeks way back under latest new boss
International return a relief for defender who was left to the Wolves a year ago
Stephen Ward taking part in yesterday’s Republic of Ireland squad training session in Malahide, Co Dublin. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho
New Republic of Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane tosses out a training bib as he organises his first squad training session at Malhide yesterday. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times
Regime change is becoming a way of life for Stephen Ward, who knows better than ever after the last year or two that footballers win some and lose some as the managerial wheel goes round and round.
At Wolves there were tough times for the Dubliner after Mick McCarthy’s departure but he has since settled well at Brighton, on loan, where his arrival coincided with a significant defensive improvement.
Now he is back in the Ireland squad after almost a year, and happy about it, but having been included by caretaker Noel King, the defender remains unsure how much he can read into this latest change of fortunes.
“Everyone wants to be here all the time,” he acknowledged at Malahide yesterday. “To come away and represent your country is what everyone wants to do. To see your name in that squad . . . it’s great to be here but obviously it’s all change.”
It’s certainly a far cry from the Euro 2012 qualifying campaign during which, under Giovanni Trapattoni he became a regular after filling the vacancy at left back created by Kevin Kilbane’s initial injury and eventual departure from the international scene.
He had a rough time at the finals – but was hardly unique in that – and might have mixed feelings about returning next week to Poznan where his early error against Croatia seemed to set the tone for Ireland’s tournament.
Later, he could have few complaints really about being replaced as a starter at left back by Marc Wilson, given the northerner was playing well there for Stoke in the Premier League, but Ward could certainly be forgiven for feeling hurt by his subsequent omission from the Italian’s squads.
Instead, he is remarkably magnanimous about both it and the lack of a phone call to explain the situation.
“It’s not great when your club is having a tough time,” he says. “Maybe he [Trapattoni] thought that, psychologically, it wasn’t great to be coming into the [Irish] set-up. But listen, it was the toughest time of my career. We were in the Premier League and one year later we were fighting relegation [from the Championship]. It was a strange time at the club.”
As for the lack of contact, he adds: “Obviously that’s the way he works and I’ve got to respect him for that. I’d never begrudge him for not picking me. He gave me my chance and he’s given me every cap I’ve got.
“It was his decision and it wasn’t as if I was singled out. Other people may do things differently but you’ve just got to hold your hands up.”
There is a clear sense as the 28-year-old spoke, though, that his confidence has been bolstered by a run of games and good form at Brighton.
Chance to start afresh
The new management team could, like his club move, represent a chance to start afresh, he hopes, although he is just happy to be working with two such prominent figures:
“It’s a massive appointment,” he says, “two really big names in Irish football and it’s what we needed after having a manager of the calibre of Giovanni Trapattoni.
“We’ve only had one training session and I don’t know how much they want to change or what they want to do but we have these two games and 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.”
Ward barely knows either man, in fact, and is unsure just how much they know about him. It was King who recalled him to the squad, something Ward only heard about from his club and so far there have been only a few introductory talks and personal introductions.
Still, he suggests, there is cause for optimism on the basis of yesterday’s first training session: “Every manager is different and it was probably a different session to what we would have done with the previous manager, he says. “It was a good day. If there are changes, it will take more than one day to see them. But today was a good start, a nice sharp session.”