Ciaran Clark in better form than ever as he prepares for Ireland’s World Cup qualifiers

Ciaran Clark in better form than ever as he prepares for Ireland’s World Cup qualifiers

Ciaran Clark is confident he is playing as well as he has in his career as he dreams of a trip to the World Cup finals.

The 27-year-old Republic of Ireland defender has returned to the Premier League with Newcastle after playing a key role in their promotion from the Sky Bet Championship following his switch from Aston Villa in August last year.

He will hope to line up for his country in their qualifiers against Georgia in Tbilisi on Saturday and Serbia in Dublin next Tuesday with a trip to Russia next summer up for grabs, and will do so in positive mood.

Asked if he is currently in as good form as he has been, Clark said: "I think so, yes.

"I got a lot of confidence from last season, the way we played as a team. The confidence shows each week when you are going out there and winning games.

"I feel like I am improving as a player as well under Rafa [Benitez] and I want to keep doing that. Hopefully I can just bring the form I had last season into this season and keep going."

Clark stepped into something of a cauldron when he agreed to move to St James' Park, where life is rarely dull, as he has discovered in recent weeks with Benitez and owner Mike Ashley seemingly at odds of the club's summer rebuilding plans.

However, he believes he has the character to cope with that, and that will also serve him well on the international stage.

He said: "It's a massive stadium, a massive fan-base - no matter what day of the week or what time the games are, the stadium is always packed out.

"They do expect good performances and good attitude shown on the pitch and if you can do that...

"It's not just about managing that when you are doing so well, it's when you are not playing so well and can you play under that pressure? I think I can - hopefully I can - and hopefully I can show that this year."

Martin O'Neill will hope Clark and his Ireland team-mates can do that this weekend at the Boris Paichadze Dinamo Arena, where victory would keep the pressure on Group D leaders Serbia and at least maintain a four-point gap to catching Wales and Austria, although that will be no easy task.

O'Neill is keeping his fingers crossed that striker Jonathan Walters will be fit after sitting out training once again on Tuesday as he nurses an ankle injury, although assistant manager Roy Keane knows the 33-year-old will do his best to be.

Keane said: "It helps when a player is positive about his chances of playing, that's pretty important. The type of character Jon is, Jon will obviously put his body on the line, if that's what you're asking me.

"We have to be fair to him and obviously his club, but we're hopeful."


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