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.”