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'Ward's Irish career is not over' - O'Neill

Leaked WhatsApp message won't affect defender while boss admits squad morale is high ahead of Poland friendly

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DRY RUN: Cyrus Christie and his Ireland team-mates during a training session in Wroclaw.  Photo: Sportsfile

DRY RUN: Cyrus Christie and his Ireland team-mates during a training session in Wroclaw. Photo: Sportsfile

DRY RUN: Cyrus Christie and his Ireland team-mates during a training session in Wroclaw. Photo: Sportsfile

Martin O'Neill insists that the door to the Republic of Ireland squad is still open to Stephen Ward even though the contents of his WhatsApp account have been leaked to the public.

The fact that Ward's message (below) is one of the most-read pieces of text in Ireland in the last 24 hours will send shivers up the spine of those - and not just footballers - who have stuff in their WhatsApp that could end careers or marriages.

Ward still has a career with Ireland even though we know his take on what went on when Roy Keane fell out (to put it mildly) with Harry Arter and Jon Walters during an Ireland training camp last summer.

Of course some of what has been said is disputed and O'Neill has pointed out that Ward was not in the Ireland camp (he was rested for the three-game series in May/June after an long season with Burnley), so the information he has about the exchanges between Keane and Walters/Arter (and they were bitter according to Ward's account) is not first-hand.

Issue

It will raise a wider issue about committing thoughts or words to a digital format that can come back and haunt anyone, and Ward has apologised to O'Neill and Keane for the fact that his comments have become public knowledge, but for now O'Neill will try to plough on.

"I have spoken to Stephen, I did when I heard about it today after it was mentioned to me, I didn't know anything about it," O'Neill said after the press conference in Wroclaw last night ahead of this evening's friendly, a game which has been completely overshadowed by the Keane/WhatsApp issue.

"That's not the reason Stephen is not here, he's got a sore foot and will hopefully be fit for Burnley.

"Do I have sympathy or empathy for a 33-year-old who has known about social media for a lengthy time and says he's just telling it to a crowd of mates?

"Today: probably not. Tomorrow: probably not also. He has been betrayed by some of his friends, who he has known for a long, long time. That will be a disappointment for him.

"The only implication it has for Stephen is if he's fit to play and come with us and he'll be there.

"I assume he's apologised for himself and I think he's spoken to Roy as well. I have no problem with that. It will only be age and ability which prevents him coming to the next squads. But the answer is no," O'Neill added when asked if Ward's Ireland career was now over.

At times during O'Neill's meeting with the press in the Wroclaw stadium last night it was hard to believe that he was here ahead of a friendly international, the match or the opposition from Poland were barely mentioned.

The local media were bemused at the amount of time spent discussing the WhatsApp issue. They're not too sure who Harry Arter is and not all that bothered once they heard.

They have a big occasion of their own tonight, a home friendly which will be the 100th cap for Robert Lewandowski, which is a big honour as only three players in the history of the Polish national team have won 100 caps or more.

Séamus Coleman's absence due to injury, the arrival on the stage of David Meyler as captain (having been unable to get any game time during last week's defeat in Wales), the identity of the front men for Ireland, what could be the weakest Ireland XI to take to the field in many years... no one is interested as there is only one show in town.

"This is an absolute sideshow, absolute sideshow," O'Neill said.

"Problems on the pitch? Of course we have problems on the pitch.

"We have a number of players injured. We have lost two competitive games on the trot in a period of 10 months.

"In the previous 11 competitive games in the World Cup, we lost one. We are going through a bit of a stodgy period. We area trying to get young players through at the minute, and we have capped innumerable players at this minute.

"Overall, I have capped nine new players in the last few months, to try and prepare ourselves for this European Championship.

"These two confrontations took place four months ago, are surfacing now and we are going through all of that.

"And, you know what, I will be astonished if there is not a confrontation between now and November time. If there is not, I'll start it myself," he said with a smile.

When O'Neill visited Poland (Poznan) for a friendly in only his second game in charge, in 2013, there was none of this fuss.

Early form under O'Neill lifted the gloom from the post-Trapattoni era, but there is no question that morale has taken a hammering on the back of... well, hammerings against Denmark and Wales.

"We were second best in Wales game," he admitted.

"But the minute you lose a match everything is then questioned.

"In terms of morale, I couldn't disagree more.

"I need to emphasis this - we could not have reached the Euros and performed in the manner we did, or gone from fourth seeds in the World Cup to reach the play-offs with poor morale in the camp.

"We could not have done it unless the morale was sky high.

"We got beaten in the game (Wales) and were second best, but that was nothing to do with morale."

Poland are in good form under their new manager, they will honour Lewandowski tonight and expect a win, a likely losing end to a week that O'Neill will want to forget about.


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