Ward prepared for biggest game of career

BY foxsports • November 9, 2011

Republic of Ireland defender Stephen Ward will approach Friday's opening Euro 2012 play-off clash with Estonia as the biggest game of his life.

The 26-year-old Wolves full-back has played a key part in the current campaign and was a member of the side which somehow managed to draw 0-0 in Russia against all the odds in September.

However, while the Estonians may not represent the same threat as Dick Advocaat's men did that night in Moscow, Ward is adamant the trip to Tallinn is the most important of his career to date because of what is at stake.

He said: "You approach it as if it's the biggest game you are ever going to play in.

"With the manager we have, there's no way any of us will underestimate them. They have come through quite a difficult group to get to the play-offs, so they have to be respected.

"We have got a chance of achieving something great for us as players, so we need to go out as if we are playing anyone in the world and make sure we do everything to the best of our ability."

The Irish camp spent much of the early part of the week playing down suggestions they are favourites to reach the finals in Poland and Ukraine next summer with manager Giovanni Trapattoni and his assistant Marco Tardelli insisting there is no reason why that should be the case.

The message had clearly got through to the players by the time they headed for the former Soviet republic this afternoon with Ward admitting the mental side of preparations for a tie which could end their long wait to play in a major tournament will be crucial.

He said: "It's massive. A lot of the game is played in your head and you need to make sure that you are mentally strong for this week.

"People will probably put us down as favourites, but over the years I don't think Ireland have done too many things the easy way.

"We are just going to take it like we would every game, prepare right and make sure our minds are on the job and make sure that we go out there and we are 100 per cent ready for the task at hand."

Ireland's desperation to qualify is understandable. It is 10 years since they booked their last big World Cup adventure, and they have not made the finals of the European Championship since 1988.

They have been close, most notably two years ago when a controversial play-off defeat by France shattered their dreams of a trip to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

It is a measure of Ward's rise since that he watched that epic encounter in Paris on television wondering if his chance would ever come.

He said: "At the time, it probably for me seemed like it was never going to happen.

"But I always felt if I just kept playing at my club, working hard, then if I got the chance, hopefully I could take it.

"I waited a long time to get my chance, but I feel my patience has paid off."

Ward may not have been scarred by the events at the Stade de France in November 2009, but enough of his team-mates have been to leave him in little doubt that they will leave no margin for error this time around.

He said: "I watched it on the night and I probably lived every kick.

"I have spoken to the lads about it and they were all heartbroken, so I think it will definitely spur them on to do well in these games.

"They will want to make sure they are on the right end of a play-off result this time."

Trapattoni and his players left Dublin with Shay Given, Richard Dunne and Keith Fahey all having trained after undergoing treatment for minor ailments on Tuesday.

Tardelli said: "Everybody trained. The players are fit. Dunne and Shay Given played and trained well, and we do

not have a problem."

share story