STEPHEN WARD says he's eager to make up for lost time with club and country when the new season kicks off in earnest next month.
The former Bohemians man has clocked up over 100 league appearances for Wolves since his move from Dalymount Park in 2007 and only last week Mick McCarthy admitted that the €200,000 purchase of Ward from Bohs was one of the best pieces of business he'd ever done on the transfer market.
Ward missed the end of the Premier League season last term with a knee injury, which also denied the defender what would have been his international debut in the May friendlies against Algeria and Paraguay.
"The injury came at a bad time for me and you do look back and think of what might have been, especially those Ireland games in Dublin," said Ward. "But I have moved on now and put it behind me, injuries are part and parcel of the game and what I need to do now is get myself back to full fitness, get myself back into the Wolves team and take it from there.
"I have a bit of ground to make up because I missed a fair few games with Wolves through injury and I also missed out on the chance to go into the Ireland squad, but it could have been a lot worse.
"I had my first serious injury at the start of last season. I got injured in the third game of the season and things looked bad at the time.
"When I was in hospital with that injury I didn't know how long I'd be out for. It could have been for the whole season but I came back strong and played about 20 games, so that was a bonus really.
"So I am delighted to be back fit with Wolves and I just want to kick on now and start the season well," added Ward, who was given a very warm welcome by both the home and visiting fans at Dalymount Park last Saturday when he came on as a sub for Wolves in a 3-0 win over Bohs.
"I am back ahead of schedule," said Ward. "I had only trained fully for one day last week before Mick called me in for the Bohs game and gave me a runout. I really didn't expect to be involved in that game at Dalymount on Saturday so I have been on a high since then.
"The Bohs game meant a lot to me anyway. The fact that it was against my old club at Dalymount, which is a place I know well, and a lot of my family and friends were there. There were a few familiar faces in the Bohs side as well.
"Pat Fenlon has brought in a lot of players since I left the club but I know lads like Jason McGuinness and Ken Oman from my time at Bohs. They're still good friends of mine and I'd have played regularly against the likes of Owen Heary and Jason Byrne.
"I always thought I'd be back at some stage in pre-season, but I thought it would be later on, maybe even next month or the week before the Premier League started, so that's a massive boost for me."
The Portmarnock lad played his football for Bohs as a striker or winger but McCarthy has converted him to a defensive role and Ward was a regular at left back for Wolves, making an impressive 22 Premier League appearances in that position last season. But Ward knows he faces a battle to win back the position for this season.
"I'd like to think that the job at left back is up for grabs, the same with any position in the team, I don't think anyone is guaranteed to start," he said. "That's why it was important for me to get back playing as quickly as possible.
"If I missed the start of the Premier League season that would hand someone else the chance to get in there at left full and establish themselves.
"I'm fit and ready for the start of the season -- to give the gaffer a headache," added Ward.
While in Dublin last week, McCarthy refused to set a target for the season for his club, aside from the usual one of looking for an improvement on the season.
"You hear a lot of talk about second season syndrome and we have to make sure it doesn't happen to us," said Ward.
"We had a decent season last year, finishing 15th and we were safe with a few games to but we have to look at what other clubs have done and learn from it.
"We have all worked hard to get here, to the Premier League, and it will take a lot of hard work to stay there, no one at this club wants to go back to the Championship."