Sunday 19 November 2017

'Your career is never plain sailing but I feel I am in a good place at the minute'

Stephen Ward is enjoying the best spell of his career with Burnley and Ireland. Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile
Stephen Ward is enjoying the best spell of his career with Burnley and Ireland. Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile

Miguel Delaney

Stephen Ward doesn't come and say it outright himself, but he seems to have been well aware of some of the criticisms said about his international performances over the last few years.

"It is just the nature of the game," the Burnley defender reflects. "Sometimes people think, 'He's not right, he is not doing this', but you always have to have belief in yourself . . . People will always have opinions about players and about managers but as long as you believe in yourself, do what you do every day and work hard, you tend to just stay away from all that.

"It is always a tough ride, your career is never plain sailing but I feel I am in a good place at the minute, playing for Burnley and being involved here."

He has also reclaimed his place in the Irish team, and that represents a creditable turnaround for the 31-year-old. In three years, Ward has gone from a Championship defender whose international career seemed to be fading after a series of uncertain performances, to a dependable fixture in the team again at left-back. He admits he had to go on loan to Brighton from Wolves in 2013 to "revitalise" his career" and, having also recovered from a broken leg, that career seems to have actually gone up a level.

"There were a few problems at Wolves and I went on to Brighton and did really well and earned a move to Burnley back in the Premier League [in 2014]. Then I broke my leg. To get an injury like that was tough. It took me longer to get back than I predicted. You think that once you start running and you get back fit it will be all right but it takes a lot longer than that and I probably didn't feel right till six, seven, eight months after and it was tough. It is never nice when you are injured, it's probably the worst part of football."

Ward is now enjoying the best of it, as a starter in a Premier League club who have earned admiration since returning to the top tier. That form has undeniably bolstered his Irish performances, and he puts a lot of it down to the influence of Sean Dyche's distinctive management, that he likens to Martin O'Neill.

"There are a lot of very similar qualities that they both have. That is why everybody enjoys coming in here.

"He [Dyche] has built everything that we have been successful with there. When we went down, obviously there were clubs that were interested in him, but he knew the legacy that he was building, we have a new training ground on the way and he wanted to be part of it. And he kept the core of the team and brought in the right type of people to get us promoted. And he knows how to get promoted, and Burnley is the type of club, it is a real family club.

"We have a lot of players that got promoted the last time but there is a different feeling about the place, people now feel that they belong in the Premier League rather than just going up there to survive. I felt it on the first day of the season when we played Swansea, lads had the shoulders back and we were confident that we could make a mark on the league and that is how we started."

So, does Ward himself feel like an established Premier League footballer by this point?

"I wouldn't say that, no. If we can stay in the Premier League for the next three or four years then yes, but not at the minute."

At the minute, he's back to being an established Irish starter.

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