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."