No excuses if Linfield title bid fades, says Sean Ward
Sean Ward knows exactly how hard it is to win a league title. Ten years ago, as a raw 21-year-old, he broke into the Glentoran team just as the heat was building in the battle for the Gibson Cup and played a part in a dramatic triumph in which Chris Morgan played a never-to-be-forgotten part.
Morgan had moved from Linfield to The Oval less than a year earlier and scored the goal that effectively tied the green, red and black ribbons to the trophy.
Ward is now trying to emulate Morgan by winning the league with both of Belfast's Big Two.
And he wants to do it this season.
Which is why he is not about to use Linfield's unexpected mid-season change of manager as a 'get out of jail free' card if they don't finish the season with silverware.
Instead, he claims that there is no room for excuses at Windsor Park with the Blues going top of the league one match into the reign of new boss David Healy last weekend, after also being in first place when Warren Feeney left the club for Newport County.
Not that the fans would accept them anyway as they are all but demanding that the players deliver a first league title since 2012, irrespective of what is going on off the pitch.
"We definitely can't think that changing manager during the season means that this is a free season for us," said Ward, ahead of facing Carrick Rangers at Windsor this afternoon.
"We wouldn't let that come into our minds anyway.
"Nobody is going to get at all complacent and let that be in the background as an excuse if we aren't successful this season.
"We want to win trophies this season and we are disappointed that the opportunity to win the League Cup is now gone.
"Everyone in the squad knows the expectation that comes with playing for Linfield. We haven't won the league since I have been here and the longer you go without winning it, the bigger that expectation gets."
Healy is only getting to know the ropes after just 10 days in the job so hasn't had time to put his stamp on things as yet.
That will come in time.
Northern Ireland's record goalscorer hasn't seen fit to undertake a dramatic overhaul of match preparation or training methods - and is unlikely to. It isn't possible to change the playing personnel this side of January anyway, but he knows what isn't broke doesn't need fixing.
When you are top of the league it's just a case of trying to get a little more out of the players and that's what has been happening in the few training sessions that Healy has overseen thus far.
"I haven't seen or sensed any real changes coming in at this stage," said Ward.
"It's only really this week that we've worked with the new manager, because last week, after the Ballinamallard United game, those who had played didn't do a lot on the Thursday night.
"I am sure he will want to implement his own ideas, but he is in a pretty much unique situation - and a positive situation - in that normally a new manager comes into a club because things were going wrong and the previous manager got the sack.
"David is taking over a team where there isn't a lot wrong. We are top of the league at the minute and anything that he does want to change will be for the benefit of the team and the club."
The league campaign will be a third of the way through after today's matches and Ward is determined to retain the same focus that has seen the Blues drop just seven points out of a possible 36 so far.
"We beat Carrick 3-0 earlier in the season, but I wouldn't say it was a 3-0 game," he said.
"They gave us a game at Taylors Avenue and then will relish coming to Windsor Park.
"They may have been promoted last season, but they are a Premiership team now and we have to treat them accordingly, like we do every team we come up against."