Ward: Republic of Ireland now ‘in a good place’

Date published: Friday 10th June 2016 1:37 - Ian Watson

Stephen Ward is confident the Republic of Ireland’s preparations for Euro 2016 will send them into battle in exactly the right frame of mind to exorcise the ghosts of Poland.

Four years ago, Ward and his team-mates travelled to eastern Europe with high hopes of making an impression, only to fall at the first hurdle having failed to collect a single point from group clashes with Croatia and eventual finalists Spain and Italy.

It proved a gruelling build-up to the campaign for the players as then manager Giovanni Trapattoni had them in camp for a week in Dublin, another in the Tuscan spa town of Montecatini and then two days in Budapest for a friendly against Hungary before they even arrived at their Polish base, and there was a measure of stir-craziness before a ball was kicked.

But this time around, manager Martin O’Neill opted for a build-up on home turf with a week at the Football Association of Ireland’s National Training Centre in Abbotstown, a second at the Fota Island resort in Cork and a weekend off before re-assembling in Dublin ahead of Wednesday’s departure to France.

Ward said: “I think we are in a good place. It was a big thing staying in Cork – it kept us in Ireland around the fans, around the buzz of the country and it was a good first two weeks.

“Then coming over here now, it’s great to finally be here. It’s been a good camp so far and we are all looking forward to Monday.

“We had a good week in Dublin, a good week in Cork, where the weather was really nice – but it’s great to finally be in France.

“The buzz around the squad and around the area is outstanding and everyone is looking forward to getting going.”

The Republic will finally get going on Monday evening when their tournament begins in earnest against Sweden at the Stade de France, a game which could go a long way towards determining their Group E fate with seemingly tougher fixtures against Belgium and Italy to follow.

O’Neill has been keeping his cards close to his chest, particularly with injuries having threatened to disrupt his plans, and with Jonathan Walters still working his way through a calf problem, his first line-up has been the topic of intense debate.

Winger Robbie Brady has been used at left-back in recent times, but if Walters, who often operates as an auxiliary wide midfielder for Ireland, were to miss out, he could be pushed forward, potentially opening the door for Burnley full-back Ward.

The 30-year-old said: “It’s a squad of 23 and the manager had some very difficult decisions to whittle it down just to 23 because a lot of people have played a big part in qualification.

“Obviously everyone wants that shirt, but whatever team the manager picks on Monday, as a squad we want to come and make an impression in the tournament.”

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