Midfielder Ireland experienced a disappointing debut season under the then Villa boss Gerard Houllier who claimed he needed to "work harder" and then loaned him out to Newcastle.
But he has been given another chance at the midlands club - along with left-back Stephen Warnock - since McLeish's arrival last summer and is reaping the benefits of his first elongated spell of games.
Ireland defied an early dead leg to be chosen as the club's official man of the match for the 1-1 home draw with Everton with fans chanting his name.
He said: "I feel I'm ready to show my best form now. I'm getting fitter and you get that with a consistent run.
"In the majority of games, I would be feeling like I was coming off no matter how well I was doing.
"I guess that was because I haven't been given the trust. Probably since I first got here, I haven't been given that trust - but I have now thanks to the gaffer.
"I'm in a good place. I'm working as hard as I can, I'm improving game by game and the more confidence I get, the better."
Ireland admitted: "It's a question as well of getting on the same wavelength as some of the other players.
"At Manchester City, I could play passes because I knew where everyone else was but at the moment I need to get on the same wavelength as the others.
"I feel like I'm going in the right direction and the more football I get, it will improve."
Ireland admits winning over the Villa fans has been one of his objectives.
He said: "One of the targets I've set is to get on better with the fans and it is nice when they sing your name on the pitch.
"I've not had the greatest of relationships with them but I've not had a consistent run.
"I would start a game but then not be in the squad for 10 games. There was no in-between. It's been frustrating but I'm playing now and I'm pleased."
Ireland was recently pictured on the front of one tabloid paper appearing to smoke a shisha pipe and has had his fair share of off the pitch headlines during his career.
But he is adamant he is only interested in changing people's opinions of him on the pitch.
He said: "I threw a party a few months ago and I was renting them for everyone. I had one for myself. We had Christmas day off, I thought I would celebrate it with a bit of shisha. It's all a bit of fun.
"Do people get the wrong impression of me? I think people can make their own judgements.
"I don't think 'I'll do this.' I just do whatever I want and, if people judge me, that's completely fine.
"I'm not here to change people's opinions of me. Only on the field."