It’s been quite a few months for Ciarán Clark.
Not too long ago he was known to most as a utility player; someone who could perform in a variety of positions, from wing-back to midfield, when required, but never a constant fixture in one spot.
Now though, with an element of fortune and because of Richard Dunne’s continuing battle with injury, he has been thrust into starting positions for both club and country.
At Aston Villa, despite only being 23, Clark has, in the blink of an eye, become a senior member of their youthful squad. For Ireland, with Sean St Ledger out injured up until very recently, he has partnered John O’Shea at centre-half.
Under the circumstances, he has matured rapidly and developed into one of Paul Lambert’s go-to-guys.
Aside from scoring the opening goal, his defensive performance against Poland, up against Robert Lewandowski — a striker with the same physical presence as the man all eyes will be trained on come Friday, Zlatan Ibrahimovic — was his best yet in a green shirt.
And while he stresses Dunne’s absence is a major blow for both teams, it’s hard to deny he is one of very few to have benefited.
“I don’t think you can dwell on things like that,” he says. “With injuries you’ve got to move on and do your best. Richard has been a big miss for us and hopefully he can come back soon.
“For me personally, I think the more games you play, the more you learn and develop as a player. The more I can keep playing, the more I learn and the better I can become.”
With his establishment as a constant feature in the Villa team comes additional scrutiny and on more than one occasion he has been the target of forensic criticism on Match of the Day, a programme which has, more often than not, a tendency to be a tad softer in its criticism than others.
Take last month’s 3-3 draw at Goodison Park as one prime example. Clark was singled out by Alan Hansen after being rolled by Victor Anichebe on the edge of the area for Everton’s first goal. Then there was Manchester City a fortnight ago, when Sky dug their nails in when his costly slip allowed Carlos Tevez to score the only goal of the game.
While he acknowledges the criticism that has been directed his way, it isn’t something that has bothered him, or, it would seem, affected him in any way.
“I’ve heard a few bits and seen Match of the Day a few times but it’s just one of those things and you get on with it really.
“People have their opinions and you don’t take it too harshly, if you did that you’d have all sorts going through your head.”
St Ledger’s return to fitness may throw a spanner in the works and it won’t be until later in the week that the picture will become clearer over who will start alongside O’Shea on Friday.
The Leicester City man, while more experienced in a green shirt, has only played two games since coming back from his own injury problems and questions remain over whether he is 100% or not.
In Clark’s favour, Trapattoni has spoke glowingly about last month’s 2-0 win over Poland — it was the team’s first clean sheet since the scoreless draw away to Serbia at the end of last summer — and that may favour the Aston Villa man by the time the manager names his starting side on Thursday.
“It was a good night [against Poland] and a good win for us and an important clean sheet going into big qualifiers. All the lads did well and the young lads will feel they took their chance and will hope they have done enough to stay in the squad.”
As for his partnership with O’Shea: “We did quite well together and we have had a couple of games now. The more games you play together the more you get used to each other and how each other works. Fortunately that night we came away with a clean sheet.”
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