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Dublin: 10 °C Saturday 19 October, 2019

'The manager changed the way we play and it gave me and Cyrus a licence to go forward'

The player also revealed he considered leaving Burnley owing to a lack of first-team action previously.

Republic of Ireland's Stephen Ward on the ball during tonight's game.
Republic of Ireland's Stephen Ward on the ball during tonight's game.
Image: PA Wire/Press Association Images

STEPHEN WARD HAS suggested Slovakia’s second goal on the stroke of half-time tonight should have been disallowed, while also discussing the greater freedom he was granted by manager Martin O’Neill tonight.

Slovakia forward Róbert Vittek claimed his side’s equaliser, though the final touch appeared to come off Paul McShane judging by replays.

However, Ward thinks Vittek may have handled the ball on its way to goal.

“It’s disappointing. The goals came out of nothing. There’s a suspicion of handball in the second one and that obviously went against us, but looking back, the most pleasing thing tonight is the performance as a team.

“We showed a different side of our game tonight — we were positive going forward.”

Ward also revealed that O’Neill gave himself and fellow full-back Cyrus Christie more license to go forward than usual.

It was enjoyable. The manager changed the way we play and it gave me and Cyrus a licence to go forward.

“We’re obviously trying a few different shapes and formations, and ironing things out before the summer.

“Overall, it’s been a really positive week. Winning Friday and a game we should have won tonight, but performance-wise, it’s got to be a real plus.”

Ward said that O’Neill’s parting advice to the squad was for players to “keep their form up and keep playing”.

Last October, the Burnley defender was thrown into the deep end against Germany, having had virtually no game time all season for his club, as he was out of favour at time. Nevertheless, since then, the Dubliner has become a regular for Sean Dyche’s side.

So was he more confident approaching these Ireland games compared with before?

“Yeah, I feel much sharper and much fitter. There’s no substitute for playing games.

“It was something I spoke with my manager before I got in the team. I said: ‘I might have to leave to get in the Ireland squad,’ but thankfully the way football works, I’ve got in the team.”

However, Ward denied that he was putting pressure on Dyche to play him.

I wasn’t asking why I wasn’t in the team. We’ve got a good squad there. It was more so saying that ‘if I don’t play when Januay comes, (moving) is something I have to consider. Not that I ever wanted to leave. It’s a great club and a great set of lads we have.

“But it was something I was considering, but before Christmas, things changed.

Hopefully now we can go and finish the job off (of earning Premier League promotion) over the next seven or eight games.”

In addition, asked about what has changed in the Martin O’Neill era compared with the 2012 Euros, which Ward was a part of, he indicates that the level of self-belief among the current crop of players is growing: ”It was tough last time, but there’s a real good feel around this whole camp. There’s a good blend of youth and enthusiasm coming in to join with the more experienced players.

“I think you’ve got to be optimistic going into any competition and come the summer, I’m sure everyone will be raring to go.”

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Paul Fennessy

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