STEPHEN WARD is ahead of schedule in his recovery programme after a nasty ankle injury disrupted his season.
And the Dubliner has vowed to make a swift return to action to help out in crucial games for club and country in the coming weeks.
Ward, 29, was on a high heading into the busy December period. He had re-established himself as Ireland's first-choice left back under Martin O'Neill (pictured), had also made the left back slot his own with Burnley, and was back in the Premier League for the first time in three seasons.
And things were looking up in Burnley's relegation battle as Sean Dyche's side turned around a horrible start to the season - the Clarets went 11 games without a win - to go on a three-game unbeaten run.
But Ward's season took a serious knock during a Premier League clash with Newcastle United in early December and he's been sidelined with an ankle injury ever since, missing the last 11 games for his club as he was forded to undergo surgery.
Yet there's light at the end of the tunnel for the defender and last week he got the all-clear to resume training. A return to first-team action is now only weeks away, and the defender is determined to be back to his best in time for that crucial March date with Poland in Dublin.
"I can't really set a date in terms of playing for the team again, I have to step up my running this week and then think about full-contact training. It's seven weeks now since I was involved so I have a bit of catching up to do in terms of fitness," Ward told The Herald.
"I would hope to be back involved in training within two weeks. After that, I'd need at least one game in the reserves to get my match fitness back up to speed. But it's nice to be back running again.
"The injury happened in early December and I had the operation on December 8. I saw the specialist last week and he gave me the all-clear to step up my rehab, so in the last four-five days I have just been running and progressing quite well.
Hopefully, there's no reaction and I can be available to the manager soon enough," added Ward.
"We were on a nice run there for a few weeks and the injury came at a really bad time for me," he says.
"I had been struggling a bit before that game, I had a bit of soreness down there, I think there was a problem there that I just didn't know about and then my tibia just went in the Newcastle match.
"I was playing well and we were on a good run so it was unfortunate but these things happen and you can't get too downhearted about it.
"The most important thing for me is that we stay up and we have shown over the last few weeks that we are capable of (doing) that.
"It was disappointing not to win last weekend as we played well against Palace but we are doing ok and we did well against Spurs in the FA Cup.
"It's a disappointment to be out of the Cup but staying in the Premier League is the main aim.
"We have a busy schedule ahead of us now and I hope to get back in plenty of time to play a part before the end of the season."