LIAM MACKEY: Reliable Ward takes change in his stride

The Premier League may be a global operation but there are times when it cannot disguise its insular roots.

Wolves owner Steve Morgan discovered as much earlier this month when he eschewed the usual list of has-beens and never-was candidates by asking Stale Solbakken, a former Copenhagen and Cologne coach, to take over at Molineux.

Whether he proves to be another Arsene Wenger or a Christian Gross remains to be seen but Stephen Ward, though blindsided as much as everyone else by the choice of new man at the time, wasn’t long in digesting it and moving on.

“He has managed at a high level, even if the Danish League may not be as high as the Premier League. Copenhagen has progressed to the quarter-finals [of the Champions League] and he’s managed in Germany too. He’s an experienced manager with a really good CV.”

No doubt Ward will adapt. He always has.

Six years ago, he was up front banging the goals in for Bohemians in the League of Ireland. Now, here he is, his country’s first-choice full-back as the Republic of Ireland squad finishes its prep work for a first major tournament in 10 years.

It’s a remarkable transformation and all the more so considering it is just one year and a day since he made his senior debut for the side, scoring on his debut against Northern Ireland and bringing the curtain down on Kevin Kilbane’s long and distinguished career.

“It’s been unbelievable,” he admitted. “I have to pinch myself when I consider the amount of times I’ve played. When I first came into the squad it was just about getting in there, and trying to make a name for myself.

“I would have been happy with appearances here and there, feeling my way in. The way it’s gone on, with qualification and everything, it’s been brilliant.”

It hasn’t all been plain sailing. Ward’s inexperience at the highest level was exposed during the 0-0 draw against Russia in Moscow last September but, by and large, he has taken to his elevated status with aplomb and has already amassed 10 caps.

Number 11 is certain to arrive tomorrow against Bosnia- Herzegovina as he is the only fully fit member of what is Giovanni Trapattoni’s preferred defence but then if anyone was a certainty to be on call it was the man they call Mr Consistency in the West Midlands.

Ward played every minute of every Premier League game for Wolves last season — only Brede Hangeland of Fulham can say the same — and his form was a rare bright spot in a season that delivered relegation long before the final day’s takings were totted up.

It was a campaign that also saw Mick McCarthy relieved from his position at front of store and replaced by his assistant Terry Connor but the slide was irreversible by then.

It was a succession of events that prompted Trapattoni to worry about his Wolves contingent of Ward, Kevin Doyle, Stephen Hunt and Kevin Foley but, if anything, their woes at club level seem to be serving as yet more motivation now they are in Dublin.

“For us, it’s been strange couple of weeks. We’ve been down for a number of weeks and we’ve had time to get over it. If it happened on the last day, it would be a lot tougher coming in here. We knew writing was on the wall for two or three weeks back.

“We’ve had time to dwell on it. No better solution to it than coming in here, meeting up, put a smile back on the lads’ faces. If we were dwelling on it during the summer, it would be upsetting but having the Euros is a great distraction, the best possible.”

It’s more than that, of course, but the reality is that he will return to England and the prospect of at least one season in the Championships unless, as has been speculated, he returns to the Premier League wearing a new crest.

“I don’t think it’s in my hands,” he said. “I’m contracted there. If [Solbakken] has someone to come in at left-back, then things might be different. I’ve three years left on my contract. For the time being, I’m not looking at that at all.”


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