Stephen Ward has told Independent.ie that there may be some painful days ahead as Martin O’Neill embarks on a transitional period for the Ireland team.
|Ireland football players|
Harry Arter’s decision to walk away from the Ireland squad just days after Declan Rice asked for more time to consider his international options amid overtures from England hardly represents the most positive of openings for what O’Neill would have hoped would be a new era for his youthful Irish squad, with Ward suggesting patience will be required as they team look to move on from last November’s 5-1 hammering at the hands of Denmark in the World Cup play-offs.
“Football moves on very quickly and this is a new Ireland squad with some young players and we have to look at this as a period of transition,” stated experienced Burnley full-back Ward.
“There are a few experienced lads in this squad and we have a role to play helping the next generation coming through and I would say we need to show a bit of patience, give these lads a chance to get used to international football and let them develop.
“This game against Wales will be a good test for us, but this should be seen as the start of a new team rather than a continuation of what has gone before. I am excited to meet up with the squad again and play whatever role the manager wants from me.”
Ward admits the withdrawals of Rice and Arter are a setback to Ireland’s hopes of reviving the fortunes of the Ireland side, but admits players need to fully committed to the cause if they are to remain in the squad.
“We are only a small nation and don’t have the talent of a lot of our rivals, so we need lads who are fully committed to playing for Ireland and I’m sure Declan will take his time and come to the right decision for him,” states Ward.
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“All of us are so patriotic about Ireland. There is no greater honour than pulling on the green shirt and while we might not have world class players all over the pitch, we have a passion that has helped us to pick up some great results down the years.
“That’s why the Denmark defeat was so hard to take. Everything that could have gone wrong for us that night went wrong and we came up against a world class player in (Christian) Eriksen, who took the game away from us. It was a difficult night for all of us, but we have to move on to the next challenge now.”
Ward could have a pivotal role to play in Ireland’s new-look set-up on and off the field in the next couple of years and he has also given us a positive update on his Burnley team-mate Robbie Brady, who is closing in on a first team return as he recovers from a serious knee injury picked up last December.
“Robbie has been looking great in training and having him back will be like a new signing for Burnley and a big boost for Ireland,” adds Ward.
“I think the plan is to get him involved in a couple of practice games in the next couple of weeks and then hopefully we can get him back involved with the first team.
“It was a horrible injury for him and it is difficult to keep your spirits high when you have such a long recovery programme, but Robbie has been great around the club over the last few months and has always kept smile on his face.
“He has good people around him at Burnley and it feels like there is a light at the end of the tunnel for him now and it would be brilliant to have a player of that quality available again.”
Ward went on to suggest Ireland striker Jonathan Walters had made the right decision by leaving Burnley and returning to his former club Ipswich on loan, as he suggested first team football is what the veteran striker now needs.
“We were all sad to see Jon leave the other day because he is a big presence in our dressing room and a great lad as well, but he needs to be playing regularly and that’s why it was time for him to move on,” states Ward.
“Football can be strange at times because one minute your mates are there in the dressing room and the next day they are gone, but all of us at Burnley wish Jon well and I’m sure he will do a great job for Ipswich.”