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'Display has lifted gloom'

IRELAND defender Stephen Ward hopes that last night's display by an experimental Irish side can help to dispel the "doom and gloom" that has followed the team since the side's failures in competitive games this year.

Ireland finished the 2012 campaign on a losing note with that 1-0 defeat to Greece, courtesy of Olympiacos man Jose Holebas' first half strike, Ireland managing just three wins from 12 games in the calendar year.

Under Mick McCarthy - which now seems like a lifetime ago - Ireland lost 1-0 in a friendly at home to Greece (in 2000) but went on to qualify for the World Cup finals and while the road to Rio still looks like a long and treacherous one, Wolves man Ward hopes that last night's performances by players like Wes Hoolahan and Ciaran Clark could lead to a new start and an end to the misery of recent times.

"It has been difficult and there has been a lot of doom and gloom this year but as players we try to stay positive and the performance last night shows that things can be good for us," Ward told the Evening Herald.

"Defensively we have shipped a lot of criticism over the last while but I think we were back to our solid selves last night. We kept the ball well and it was great to see Wes Hoolahan come in and give us a different dimension in the second half.

"Ciaran Clark came in and he's given the manager another option at the back. It's important to give new faces a chance and the manager has done that, I'm sure he will be pleased with the night overall despite the defeat.

"Within the camp we feel that the criticism has been over the top. There are a lot of countries which are of a similar size and population to us and they never qualify but we seem to be always there or thereabouts and we did qualify for the Euros this year.

Maybe that's the expectation levels of a small nation that has done well. You will go through tough times but the spirit in the camp is still high and we feel we can qualify for things," added Ward.

"I think there has been a reality check. People realise now that we are a small nation, we don't have players worth €20m or €30m, and we have played against some of those countries over the last few months who have players like that.

"The reality is that we have played some of the top nations in the world and while we didn't get the results we wanted in those games, we believe we can still do better. Hopefully we have a clean slate now and we can start afresh in the World Cup games to come in March," says Ward, who was restored to the starting XI last night after being dropped in favour of Marc Wilson for the World Cup game in the Faroe Islands

"It was nice to get back into the side. I was disappointed to miss out for the Faroe Islands game, but I came back in last night and I feel I did well.

"I think we had the better of the game at times and it was good to show that we can do well when we get the ball down. We did lose and we can't hide that fact but there were a lot of positives from the game as well.

"We have taken a lot of criticism in the last while but last night was a very good performance from the team and we were sitting in the dressing room just after the final whistle wondering how we had failed to get anything from the match.

"We had a couple of stone-wall penalties and if it wasn't a friendly, if there had been something riding on the game they might have been given."