The League of Ireland was in the spotlight for good reason last week, when the FAI organised a photoshoot at Versailles of the eight ex-League players in the Euro 2016 squad, writes Ciarán Ó Raghallaigh.
Shane Long, Wes Hoolahan, Seamus Coleman, James McClean, Daryl Murphy, Stephen Quinn, David Meyler and Stephen Ward all wore their old club colours – a nod to the role they played in the development of the internationals.
But ahead of Wednesday's game against Italy in Lille, former Bohemians striker Ward, who started at left back against Belgium, had a somewhat unlikely cause to thank the domestic league.
“We all watched the France game last night and saw that the pitch [in Lille] didn’t look great,” he said, before adding; “but Myself and Wes have played in the League of Ireland so we’re used to those pitches.
“You’ve got to deal with what’s in front of you. It’s the same for the Italians as it is for ourselves — that makes it a level playing field, so we can’t blame the pitch really.”
True, but it's unlikely Daniele De Rossi has ever done it on a wet Tuesday night in Lissywoolen.
To Wednesday; and Ward insists there's no chance of the Ireland squad going into the final Group E clash in downbeat mood.
He recalls the many times this squad was written off over the course of the qualification campaign, but also how they continued to bounce back and ultimately fight their way to France.
“It was a tough game the other day, they’re top-quality opposition,” he said of the 3-0 defeat to Belgium.
“We’re disappointed, but we’ve got a lot of positivity in our squad. We’re all raring to go on Wednesday.
“If you think over the last two and a half years since the management team came in, we’ve come on leaps and bounds.
“We’ve had setbacks before and we’ve probably been written off more times than we wanted, but we’ve bounced back strong and done it against top-quality opposition.
“We believe we can go and get a result — no one has more of a belief in this team than ourselves.
“We have some big characters, really good lads and good team spirit. Obviously, everyone was down after the [Belgium game]. We spoke about it in the dressing room with the management, staff and ourselves. Once we had a rest day yesterday and got our heads right, this morning, all focus was on Italy, and we’ll prepare for that.”