Ward ready for Macedonia test

The 25-year-old’s senior international career is a little more than
a week old following his debut in the 5-0 Carling Nations Cup
demolition of Northern Ireland at the Aviva Stadium last Tuesday
night. But the 90 minutes he got then was followed by another 90 in
the 1-0 won over Scotland which handed the Republic the trophy, and
manager Giovanni Trapattoni will head for Skopje knowing he has
another genuine option. However, Ward got his chance with veteran
left-back Kevin Kilbane unavailable because of his League One
play-off final duties with Huddersfield, and with the 109-times
capped 34-year-old having since joined up with the squad, he is
odds-on to start at the Philip II Stadium on Saturday evening. Ward
said: “I know it won’t be easy for me to get into the team ahead of
Kevin Kilbane. “He has every right to play in the team on Saturday,
he’s been a fantastic servant for Ireland for so long. “It’s the
manager’s call, but if I am needed to play, then I know I will be
ready. “I feel I can come in and play on Saturday if needed. It’s a
big ask, trying to fill the boots of someone like Kevin Kilbane,
but I would give anything to play in that game on Saturday. “I’m on
a major high this week after making my debut against Northern
Ireland last week, so this international break – and the whole
season, even my career – would be topped off I if got to play.”
Kilbane, Aiden McGeady and John O’Shea are all now back in the
group while Preston defender Sean St Ledger is desperately trying
to prove his fitness in time to force his way back into
Trapattoni’s plans following a knee injury. With Richard Dunne,
whose form for his country in recent years has been outstanding,
suspended following the yellow card he collected in the 2-1 victory
over Macedonia in Dublin on March 26, the Italian will need every
ounce of experience he can find at the back for what is certain to
prove a stern test of his side’s credentials. Macedonia have
managed just four points from their five Group B games to date,
three of them from a 2-0 away win over minnows Andorra. However,
they were rugged in their approach at the Aviva Stadium on a night
when goalkeeper Edin Nuredinovski endured a personal nightmare, and
are sure to be even more determined on home turf. But Ward believes
Sunday night’s close-fought encounter with Scotland was good
preparation for what lies ahead. He said: “Playing a good side like
the Scots was good preparation for Saturday. “We were under the
cosh at times, we had to defend. But we did that and we got a
result, which we will need to do again on Saturday out there.
“Playing in the last two games, playing the 90 minutes and keeping
two clean sheets has given me a lot of confidence. “I came over
here with no illusions – I just wanted to be involved in some way
and get my first cap. “To play 90 minutes twice in a week is great
for me and I’m feeling confident ahead of this game on Saturday.
“Scotland on Sunday was a tougher game for us than Northern Ireland
a few days earlier, but personally, I’m glad we had that tough
test. I needed a hard game like that. “For me, the first game –
Northern Ireland – was a case of me getting into the squad, into
the team and seeing what international football was all about, and
the Scotland game was a much bigger test.”