Creative star hasn't given up on winning the league title with the Lilywhites this season
Keith Ward’s reward for scoring his first Dundalk goal in 2,888 days on Friday was a vigorous warm down after the full-time whistle having only played a half an hour or so against UCD.
The 31-year-old slotted past Cian Moore from John Martin’s cross in the 93rd minute to ensure a 3-0 win for his side.
It was his first goal in a white shirt since scoring the second in a 5-0 EA Sports Cup semi-final win over Wexford at Oriel Park back in August 2014.
That wasn’t the stat that concerned him as he made his way back to the dressing room long after most of his team-mates had already left.
“How did it finish with Rovers?,” he asked, knowing that the league leaders’ game away to Finn Harps had kicked off 15 minutes later than the other matches that evening.
There was a slight look of dejection mixed with acceptance when he was told it had finished 1-0 to the Hoops.
The very fact he was so eager to ask shows that Ward at least hasn’t given up on reigning in the league leaders.
“I don't think there's anything wrong with that,” he said when asked about his inquisitiveness over the result in Ballybofey.
“Rovers have been the top team for the last two or three years. They're brilliant but that's what we're aiming to get to.
“To be fair to the gaffer he says that that we're not looking at what's behind us, we're looking at what's in front of us. There's nothing wrong with that. Rovers are a top side with top players but we're competing with them. If you finish ahead of Rovers this year you'll win the league so it's good that we're looking at that and looking at the results.
“We want to put some pressure on them because I don't think anyone has over the last two years. We just want to do as well as we can and put a bit of pressure on them and see where we are at the end of the season.”
Friday’s trip to face Drogheda United at Head in the Game Park gives Dundalk a chance to put a little pressure on. With Rovers in European action against Hibs of Malta, the Louth Derby is the first of two games in hand that Stephen O’Donnell’s side have over the reigning champions. A win against Kevin Doherty’s side would close the gap back to seven, with another game in-hand still to be played.
Knowing that, Ward admits there’s a little extra importance about Friday.
“Every week is important but, like that, you want to just put a bit of pressure on them,” he said.
“The way we are at the moment I think we're still improving through the season. If you looked at us at the start of the season I don't think anyone would have put us here but I think every week if you're watching us you'll see improvements and you'd see improvements in players.
“I think if you looked at every player from the start of the season to now I think everyone has come on leaps and bounds. Even the lads who have come in on loan and the young lads look like they're enjoying themselves and the lads who have been here over the years look back to what they were I feel so I think it's a good thing.
“I don't think it's about revenge on Friday. It's just about keeping that consistency and putting a statement out there that we turn up every week and put it up to everyone because you want to put that fear back that everyone had about Dundalk over the last 10 years.
“Our home record this year, I know from playing at Bohs and coming here that you'd be saying 'we're going to Oriel, they're a top team and the place will be rocking'. You want to put that factor back in that Dundalk have had and try get that back. Even though next week is a derby we don't look at that. We just want to turn up and get the three points.”
Ward’s strike on Friday was just his eighth goal in Dundalk colours across three spells but he is hopeful that it isn’t his last of the campaign.
“It's something through my career that I probably haven't done enough of. It's something I'm trying to work on still at 31, to score more goals.
“I like to try set them up and create them but John did brilliantly to be fair. He broke well from a corner and I just tried to get myself in the box. My right foot kind of slipped a bit but I was still able to tuck it away. It's nice to get a goal and help the team.
“It's more just about getting in the box. Look at the likes of Robbie Benson and the amount of goals he chips in with and his goal against Rovers. It's just about getting yourself more in that area but through the years I'd probably look for a pull back rather than go into that area. It's just more about thinking like that but I still back myself to get in them areas.”
While Ward missed the joy of Benson’s winner against Rovers last month, he was celebrating it in Powerscourt with news of the late winner coming just a few minutes before he delivered a best man speech for Enda Stevens.
“I don't know if it was allowed out there but I had agreed at the start of the season with Stephen that I was best man at Enda's wedding. I was kind of gutted that I was missing the match, mores with how I was doing because I thought I was doing well coming off the bench and I thought it was a night where I could come on. I asked Enda could I miss it but he wasn't having any of it.
“Just before my speech I looked at my phone and Robbie Benson had scored so I was buzzing. I didn't give a f**k about the speech then after that. I was delighted. I just winged the speech but literally five minutes before I seen Robbie scored so I was delighted.”
For Ward the good times keep coming and he’s determined to keep on working hard to ensure Dundalk don’t end up as bridesmaids come the end of the year.
“I played with Stephen here and I've had a good relationship with him through the years. We've always seemed to get along well. Now he's gone into management and I'm still playing so I was absolutely delighted that he gave me the opportunity to come here this year.
“Maybe other teams wouldn't have looked at me as a player to come in and help them but he has always sort of seen something in me and I think I'm thriving under him this year. Without starting a lot of games, I think I'm having an okay season and having an impact whether it's coming off the bench or starting. I'm 31 but I'm really enjoying my football here.”
Ward was around for the birth of the Kenny era and its initial successes. Wouldn’t it be something he repeated the feat under O’Donnell? That’s a dream he hasn’t given up on.