| 9.1°C Dublin

Estonia nightmare haunts Ward

SMILES all round and whelps of delight when Ziigniew Boniek did the needful and pulled Estonia's name out of the hat as Ireland's opponents for the Euro 2012 playoff. The dream draw.

But one man gave more of a groan than a grin when news came through that Ireland were off to Estonia.

Stephen Ward has been to Tallinn but ended up with a very bruising experience which saw his Ireland team knocked out by the Estonians with a result which got the Irish side's manager the sack.

"When the draw was made and we got Estonia, my first thought was 'them again'," Ward told the Herald.

It brought back memories of Ward's first taste of European football, with Bohemians, in the UEFA Cup in 2004.

Back then the background was similar to the task ahead of Ireland over the next two games; Bohs went into the tie with Levadia Tallinn as favourites (Bohs had beaten the same club 3-0 in the Champions League qualifiers three years earlier); Bohs were away in the first leg (like Ireland tomorrow), it seemed like they'd done the needful by claiming a 0-0 draw in Tallinn. So all they needed to do was finish off the job at home.

But disaster struck as the Estonians sparkled in Dublin, won 3-1, within 24 hours Stephen Kenny was dismissed, and it took Bohs four years to rebuild.

At first glance that result should have no relevance to this Euro 2012 play-off, with a world of difference between international football and a UEFA Cup campaign of seven years ago. But there are ominous signs which do admit some relevance. Levadia's manager when they beat Bohs was Tarmo Rüütli, who is in charge of the national team tomorrow.

And no less than seven members of the Levadia side which knocked out Bohs are in the Estonia squad: keeper Artur Kotenko, defender Tihhon Sisov, midfielders Aleksandr Dmitrijev, Dmitri Kruglov, Ats Purje and Konstantin Vassiljev, and forward Vladimir Voskoboinikov.

"I remember how Bohs lost to them that time. I just hope we don't have a repeat and that whatever happens out in Tallinn, we can finish the job off at the Aviva," Ward reflected this week.

"It's so strange to think of how that all turned out for the team. Bohs did the business away from home in the first leg, got a 0-0 draw out there and it seemed like we just had to finish them off in Dublin. But they were a very decent side, played on the break and beat us 3-1.

"I remember those games well. I didn't play in the game out in Tallinn but I was involved in the home game, which we lost. It was actually my European debut.

"With Bohs that time we were very much going into the unknown, we didn't know all that much about the Estonian team, and it was one of the early rounds in Europe.

"I wasn't that long in the Bohs team and I was still quite new to League of Ireland football.

"It was very disappointing that Stephen Kenny, who had given me my debut, got the sack after that game and I felt for Stephen.

"But you can't really compare that game to this situation. We were going into the unknown but we're well drilled for this play-off," added Ward.

The Portmarnock man is very happy to be back in the fold after missing the last game, the win at home to Armenia, through suspension. He also has a spring in his step because of an upswing in form for his club. "My confidence is high now, it's great to come in here with Ireland on the back of that win with Wolves," Ward says.

Ward's goal in Wolves' Premier League win over Wigan was one of the bright spots of a good weekend for Trapattoni as all of his Premier League players are now getting regular first team football, a boost for Ireland according to Ward.

"It's great to see that things are going well for lads, it does lift our confidence when you're playing every week in the Premier League. That's the case for most of the lads. We're confident and looking forward to tomorrow, now it's just up to the players to go out and do what's needed."