David Hennessy talks to Republic of Ireland and Burnley defender about his club’s desires to make it straight back to the Premiership and his ambition to re-establish himself in the international first team.
“The club know how to get promoted out of this league and they’re going to try to do it again,” says Dublin defender Stephen Ward as he looks ahead to his club Burnley’s first season back in the Championship following last year’s relegation from the top flight.
“The club have been very much on that line, they want to come straight back up, they’ve kept hold of the manager which looked at one stage very unlikely and right from day one, we’ve come in and everyone’s got that goal again.
“We know it’s going to be tough. Burnley, maybe this year more so than the year they initially got promoted will be more of a scalp seeing as we’ve come straight down from the Premier League so it’s going to be tough but we’ve kept the majority of the squad together, we’ve a few additions and I think the manager’s looking to bring in a few more so hopefully we can have a good go again this season.
“There’s been no hangover really, the lads have come in with smiles on their faces.”
After growing up in Portmarnock, Stephen started his playing career with Bohemians. It was Mick McCarthy that brought him to England when he signed him for his Wolves team in 2007. In 2009, Ward and Wolves earned promotion to the Premier League. After Wolves suffered successive relegations in 2012 and 2013, Ward was offered a move which is when Burnley, freshly promoted to the top flight, showed their interest.
On boss Sean Dyche, known as the ‘Ginger Mourinho’, Stephen says: “He’s just an honest guy who wants players to work hard. First and foremost, we’re a very fit team, we pride ourselves on our fitness and our hard work and making sure we can go on for 90 minutes.
“That ethic and belief that we have here hasn’t changed over the summer and everyone’s come back in fairly good condition ready to go again for a good hard Championship season.”
Injury held Ward back last season in a campaign that saw Burnley relegated. Ward is looking to get back plying his trade for the club so he can then challenge for his place back in the international teatm: “I want to get myself as fit as possible. I had a tough season last year with my injury and that really hampered me towards the end of the season and in turn you don’t get as many minutes of football so I’ve come back feeling really good in pre-season and my goal is to play as much as I can here and then it’s up to the manager at international level but first and foremost, I need to be fit and healthy and playing with my club and unfortunately, I had a bad knock last year but I’m fully healed now and over that and raring to go.”
Ward says Martin O’Neill’s team should be confident of qualifying for World Cup 2018 in Russia. The Irish have been drawn in the same group as Wales, Serbia, Austria, Moldova and Georgia: “It looks like a very open group and one we should be confident of doing well in. There’s no easy groups or easy games at international level anymore but I suppose if you look at it on paper, we could have been in a much more daunting group so we’ll have to be pleased enough with that.”
However, Ward says attention can only turn to that when the job in hand, qualifying for Euro 2016, is complete. Although it may not look easy after a disappointing draw at home to Scotland, Ward says that there is no reason to be too downhearted.
“On paper, it looks quite an open group which is good but I think most people won’t really start delving into it and making sense of it until we get through this qualifying campaign and see where we end up.
“It’s still a long way away until that gets going but I’m sure people will start dissecting the group with a bit more intensity when we get through this one (qualifying campaign).”
Republic of Ireland have earned an impressive draw away to World Cup holders Germany but been disappointed with home draws with Scotland and Poland as well as defeat in Glasgow.
On Ireland’s Euro 2016 hopes, Wards says: “It’s not (going to be easy) but things can change within the kick of a ball and that has happened in so many groups. I don’t think we should be too downhearted. There’s plenty of football still to be played and plenty of points to be played for. We have still four big games and hopefully we can do the business and see where our results take us. I wouldn’t be too downhearted. It’s going to be a bit tougher now but strange things can happen in football and those things can change very, very quickly.”
For the full interview, pick up this week’s Irish World.