EURO 2016: Northern Ireland’s Jamie Ward delighted to prove doubters wrong

Northern Ireland's Jamie Ward.
Northern Ireland's Jamie Ward.
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Northern Ireland winger Jamie Ward is relishing “sticking two fingers up” at the team’s doubters.

Michael O’Neill’s side have confounded expectations at Euro 2016, their first major tournament in 30 years, by qualifying for the knockout stages.

When they were drawn alongside world champions Germany, Robert Lewandowski’s Poland and Ukraine in Group C, they were widely tipped to struggle.

Some of the more pessimistic predictions had them down to lose all three matches and return home chastened.

Ward says such comments did not go unnoticed in the team and is delighted to be showing their folly.

“We heard pundits saying we wouldn’t get a point, saying we wouldn’t score a goal...well yet again we’ve proved people wrong,” the Nottingham Forest player said.

“Some of those pundits probably never watched one of our games.

“It’s disappointing when people say that kind of stuff about us, especially if they’ve not even seen us play, so sticking two fingers up at them is great.

“There’s 23 players in the squad so there’s enough eyes to see those kind of things and point them out.

“It’s great to prove people wrong and that’s what we’ll keep on doing.”

Northern Ireland are set to play either hosts France or neighbours Wales in the second round, a rare foray into knockout football in their maiden European Championship.

They would probably start as underdogs in either match-up, heavily so against Les Bleus, more marginally versus Gareth Bale and company.

But Ward thinks they will be an awkward opponent.

Most teams can outgun the Northern Irish for star quality, but they will never be found wanting for work-rate.

“We’re going to be a tough, horrible team to play against and we’ll take it in our stride,” said Ward.

“We’re doing ourselves justice here and we’ll always work hard.

“Every game of football is tough but after the Germany match I just sat in the changing room afterwards thinking ‘I can’t move...can someone carry me to the bus’.

“It’s been a tough couple of games. The whole team has put in a real shift but Stuart Dallas and I really have to go up and down and follow the full-backs, we’ve got the graveyard shift of the game.”

Ward went into the Germany match, a one-sided 1-0 win for the world champions, on a yellow card but happily admits he would have sacrificed a place in the next match for the greater good.

It is another example of the fierce team spirit fostered by O’Neill.

“If you get booked you get booked, sometimes you have to take one for the team,” he said.

“Luckily enough I didn’t have to put in any of those type of challenges and I’m delighted to come through and be available for the next game.

“We’ve got some players from the Premier League, who have the pleasure of playing in top games every week, but for the lads who are aspiring to that this experience will really help us.”