This has been a season to forget for Kevin Doyle but Stephen Ward has dismissed concerns over his club-mate’s form ahead of next month’s European Championships.
Doyle’s season with relegated Wolves has been blighted by a succession of minor injuries, he has had to plug a hole on the team’s right wing and endured times when he has simply been out of favour. His sum total of four goals thus far says it all.
It is far from an ideal run-in to the championships in Poland for a player who has developed into one of the key cogs in Giovanni Trapattoni’s Ireland team alongside Robbie Keane and one who has 10 international goals to his name.
“It’s not really a concern at all for me,” said Ward, who was promoting the FAI’s eFlow Summer Soccer Schools at Lansdowne Road yesterday.
“I see Doyler every day in training and over the last couple of weeks he’s come back into the team and looked as sharp as ever.
“He’s a really good professional who looks after himself in the right way but it’s been unfortunate for him this year that a couple of niggly injuries have prevented him getting the sort of run in the team that he would have liked to.”
Doyle’s position as first mate to Keane came under some threat during the qualifying campaign when Trapattoni turned to some of the other strikers available to him for starts, but his place on the plane, like Ward’s, is assured.
The same cannot quite be said for their club-mates at Molineux ahead of Trapattoni’s squad announcement on Monday.
“I think Hunty [Stephen Hunt] will definitely be in it,” Ward said, “and so will [Kevin] Foley. From what I feel anyway. It’s the manager’s discretion. They’ve been great servants. Hunty plays all the time and Foles has done well as well.”
“It would be really nice if all four of us get in and will be a boost after relegation. I feel we’ll all be there.”
Already demoted with two games to go, Ward described the club’s campaign as “devastating”.
The players had let themselves and the club down, he said, but he is eager to hang on and make amends next season providing an offer isn’t received and accepted.
“It is something I don’t really talk about at the minute because the season isn’t even finished,” he said of his club future. “There is speculation about players leaving and so forth but as players a lot of us are still in contract and we feel that we have a bit of a debt to Wolves.
“I would never talk about leaving unless they came to me and said someone had put in an offer. For the moment, I’m happy there. I’m living there. I’m disappointed but if we can keep the core of the squad together we can come straight back up.”
Few did more to keep them up than the versatile Ward, who has played in every minute of every league game thus far and has even spurned the offer from caretaker manager Terry Connor to take a well-earned break prior to the Euros.
He’s come this far now and would dearly love to end the season with a 100% attendance record. Fatigue isn’t a worry. He started to taper off the training sessions weeks ago so the volume of work hasn’t had a chance to take its toll.
Neither has the club’s plight.
Wolves have known for some time that the Championship awaits them in August so Ward and his fellow Irish internationals at Molineux have had ample time to process that and park it before moving on to Poland.
Like Wolves, the expectation with Ireland is that they will prop up the rest when Group C’s business is put to bed but Ward watched previous Irish teams punch above their weight and believes they can do so again.
“We can shock a lot of people,” he insisted. “ It would be a lot of tougher on us if we were going there and were favourites to qualify.
“The way we play, we’re solid, teams will find it’s tough to beat us. The first game [against Croatia] is going to be vital but if we’re still in it coming into the Italy game we’ll have a great chance of progressing.
“Getting out of the group would be a massive achievement.”
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