Ward delight at fairytale rise to first-choice status
IT WAS approaching 11.30 on Tuesday night when Stephen Ward (right) could finally relax, change and soak in the praise.
The UEFA drug testers clearly had little room for sentiment as they hauled the man whose fairytale rise from the League of Ireland to Euro 2012 was completed with his second international goal that iced the qualification cake.
The Portmarnock man's party would have to wait as he and Richard Dunne tried to hydrate as quickly as possible, with the nearest available fluids doing just fine.
"I've was just been drinking water and beer to try and make me go to the toilet," he admitted. "It's a nightmare doing it. But it was a great night.
"I had to wait a long time to get into the squad. I couldn't have pictured it going any better than it has done. To play in games like this is fantastic and I have enjoyed every minute of it.
"I've enjoyed stepping up to this level. It's been tough, but you don't get any better grooming than in the Premier League playing against world-class players every week."
Ward can now reflect on a campaign that he didn't start, but ended up having the final word in.
And he watched Ireland enough before his call up to understand that the Irish public won't be happy with just qualifying -- now the fans will start to think big.
"For us to get there is massive," he said. "To be there after this long time is something the country has needed and it's something we have needed as players.
"People have high expectations. If we go there and we do as well as we can, that would be fantastic. We need to let it soak in a little bit and then worry about who we get in the draw after that."