Tuesday 27 September 2016

Clark's focus firmly on Belgium task as own goal consigned to history

Published 17/06/2016 | 02:30

Ciaran Clark during a press conference at Versailles Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile
Ciaran Clark during a press conference at Versailles Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile

Ciaran Clark is trying, very hard, to forget about the record he's established as the first Ireland player to score an own goal in a competitive international in seven years.

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He's even been exonerated for his OG in Monday's 1-1 draw with Sweden in France by no less a figure than Roy Keane. The Ireland assistant manager, who was not so forgiving for the moments and the Irish defending which led up to Thierry Henry's handball in Paris in 2009, had sympathy for Clark.

"He didn't kill anybody. These things happen," Keane said when pressed on Clark's deflected goal, the first scored by an Ireland player in a game of note since Kevin Kilbane put the ball past Shay Given against Bulgaria in Dublin in Croke Park back in 2009.

Clark admits that the goal did cause him a sleepless night after the Sweden game but for the Aston Villa man is now a matter of causing nightmares for Belgium, not Ireland's own, ahead of tomorrow's meeting in Bordeaux.

"Obviously the night of the game there wasn't much sleeping, it was ticking over in your head and that. But when you wake up the next day it's gone, there is nothing you can do about it," says Clark, who got the nod to start in central defence against the Swedes ahead of challengers Shane Duffy and Richard Keogh.

"It's one of them things - when the ball comes into the box as a defender, any defender will say you've got to get your body in there and try to get the ball away. Unfortunately for us, it went into the bottom corner, which was obviously devastating, but we can't think about it now, we have just got to think about the positives and look forward to the game in hand.

"We looked over it, the game in general, and we took the positives out of the game, we'll be trying to take them into the game at the weekend."

Le weekend in Bordeaux, a challenge for Ireland if ever there was one against a Belgian side who have enough individual talent to tear Ireland apart but who lack the team spirit, work effort and cohesion which make Ireland such a formidable foe.

And Clark, who has played against their attacking players like Hazard and Lukaku in the Premier League (albeit for a club which has just been relegated), is wary of Ireland building up the Belgians too much. Sweden showed on Monday that, for all of the swagger that comes attached to Zlatan Ibrahimovic, there was not a lot to them and Clark stresses the strengths of an Ireland side, currently ranked 31 places below the Belgians in the world rankings.

"They've got a number of players that can play, haven't they? he says with a smile. "They've got a top-class squad. We obviously would be aware of the talent they have got but we would be trying to concentrate on our own performance and trying to match what we put in against Sweden.

"Hazard, Lukaku, Benteke: they've got so many top players. But we've got top-class players ourselves who can cause them problems."

It's been a busy time for Clark and spending time in France with his own fan club, his dad (from Donegal) and mam (from Leitrim), has to wait.

He won a place in the starting XI against Sweden and also had to find time in his schedule for a phone conversation with Aston Villa's new boss, Roberto di Matteo. "I have seen off a few managers there," he laughs, looking at his time at Villa, though he rolls back from the suggestion that Euro 2016 could be a shop window for relegated players like himself and Robbie Brady.

But he has found time to watch other matches in Euro 2016, displays by the likes of Iceland breeding hope. "You can't go into any game thinking you've won the game before a ball has even been kicked," he says of that Portugal-Iceland draw. "We've been watching the other games and teams are organised and set up really well. some of the bigger teams have found it hard to break them down and if you've got that organisation then it's going to be tough for teams. We've been working on stuff in training and hopefully it will pay off."

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