The onset of a new campaign under new management inevitably carries with it standard phraseology such as clean slate and fresh start but, in Stephen Ward’s case at least, there is a genuine feeling of leaving behind woes of the recent past.
Ward skyrocketed and crashed in the Giovanni Trapattoni era – parachuted into the left-back position in late 2011, playing at Euro 2012 before being discarded four months later.
It’s for that reason the platform for redemption, in the shape of this double-header against Latvia and Poland, is one he’s planning to maximise.
That the recall was summoned last week by caretaker boss Noel King, rather than new supremos Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane didn’t matter to the 28-year-old after yesterday’s first training session under the pairing in Malahide. Admitting that the double relegation suffered by his Wolves side prompted the international demise of himself and clubmate Kevin Doyle under the previous regime, Ward says he’s regained some lost ground this term on loan at Brighton and Hove Albion.
“I’m enjoying my football again at club level and that has coincided with me getting back in the Ireland squad,” he said.
“Football’s a strange game. Doyler and myself chatted about it at Wolves; about how tough it was for us and it not being a great year.”
Like Doyle, Ward was dumped from the Ireland squad by text not long after Germany mauled Trapattoni’s defence in the 6-1 Dublin drubbing.
O’Neill and Keane may not be even a wet day in their Ireland jobs, yet already indications of a more harmonious rapport between players and staff have emerged.
“Their names were thrown about straight after the previous manager had gone and I think this a great appointment,” said the former Bohemians player.
“It’s probably exactly what we needed after the last campaign and there’s some time now to build the squad for the qualifiers next year.
“We’ve had our first training session, which both Martin and Roy were involved in. It was a nice, sharp session and I’d expect that to continue for these ten days that we’re together. They are both great to work under.”
Ward insisted Keane has been a picture of tranquillity during the initial exchanges.
“We only came in on Monday night and there was a meeting held by the management team,” he said.
“Everything was calm but they got their message across. I’d never met Roy before but, as a Manchester United fan, he had a huge influence on my upbringing.
“He was one of Ireland’s greatest players and so this has felt a bit surreal. But I can only learn from him and Martin.”
While not being awestruck in Keane’s presence, Ward did reveal some nervousness in encountering his boyhood idol.
“Because the profile he has in the game is massive, you come in with a little bit of excitement and nervousness,” he said.
“Everyone is here wanting to impress them. As the manager says it’s a new era, a fresh start.”
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