International role providing Ward with all right tools for domestic bliss
WITH six caps to his name, Stephen Ward is yet to taste defeat or the frustration of conceding a goal. It's a pretty idyllic start to life in international football.
Ireland's new left-back was severely tested in Moscow last month, but a defence led by the inspirational Richard Dunne somehow survived to grab a seventh consecutive clean sheet for the collective.
For Ward, it was an important step in his education.
"A great learning experience," he says, reflecting on the Russian movement that frequently left the Irish rearguard in a spin.
The Wolves man is affixed with the versatile tag but knows if he wants to assume long-term control of the Ireland left-back position, he needs to become a regular in that department for his employers. In the summer, he indicated as much to Wolves boss Mick McCarthy, who agreed with the sentiment.
"We just had a general chat," the Portmarnock lad explains. "I said to him that both international-wise and for the club, I'd like left-back to be my preference.
"Obviously, if there's a time when he wants me for whatever reason to play somewhere else, then the team comes first. But he's taken it into account.
"Most other pre-seasons I've probably played five or six other positions just to get minutes under my belt but this time it was predominantly left-back, which definitely helped me coming into the start of the season.
"Mick said that's actually where he wants me to play and that last season, for whatever reason, he moved me around more than he would have wanted."
The former Ireland manager has been true to his word, and Ward has featured in his favoured role in a new campaign which has veered from a fine start to a worrying couple of defeats.
So, in many respects, this break is welcomed, with a massive prize at stake and the chance to work with individuals who he watched from afar in his youth.
"It's great, week in, week out, to be playing against players like this all the time. Now, to be coming away and training with the elite of Irish football is fantastic," he enthuses.
"You can take so much from it. Like Richard Dunne in Moscow was outstanding. Probably one of the best performances I've ever seen from a centre-half, or anyone I've ever played alongside. The basis and foundations of a great side start at the back, and it's something we hope to keep going."
If they can extend their stinginess for another 180 minutes, the momentum could well take this group to their promised land.