Light at the end of the tunnel for Ward

Stephen Ward

Aidan Fitzmaurice

Stephen Ward is making progress in his bid to regain fitness following injury.

Ward has been absent for club and country since October after he underwent surgery on a long-standing knee problem.

Burnley boss Sean Dyche will not be able to call on the veteran for the busy festive period but he's hopeful of seeing Ward back in action soon.

"Wardy's doing well. He's not there yet but he's back on the grass working with the physios," Dyche confirmed.

"He's joining in the warm-ups with the main first team groups and then going off on his own at the minute while he regains kind of full fitness. But there will be a training period needed then as well with the group."

Ward is one of the players on Mick McCarthy's radar as he assesses players ahead of the first international of next year, in March.

James McCarthy has not played for Everton since last January due to a broken leg, his last appearance in an Ireland shirt back in October 2016, and while McCarthy has yet to prove his fitness to boss Marco Silva, a return to action in the FA Cup third round next month could be on the cards.

Jon Walters is also out long-term and may not play again this season. He is rated as very unlikely to make it back in time for the opening games of the Euro 2020 qualifiers in March.

Sean Maguire has also been forced out of action due to injury, Preston hopeful that he will be able to play in the New Year.

Shaun Williams, a key player for Millwall, is out for four to six weeks after he picked up an injury two weeks ago.

Meanwhile, keeper Conor O'Malley, who was called into the Ireland squad by Martin O'Neill last summer, hopes to build on his midweek exploits with Peterborough United and force his way back into the team.

The former St Patrick's Athletic man has not played in the league for Peterborough this season and has rarely made the bench but he played a key role in a midweek FA Cup win against Bradford City on penalties and is keen for more.

"I've had a couple of run-outs in the cups recently which I've enjoyed and I will just try and play as many games as I can and see where it takes me," said the Mayo native.