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Jamie Ward: If Michael O'Neill needs me for Euro 2020 play-offs, I'll be there

Jamie Ward
Jamie Ward

By Steven Beacom

Crowd favourite Jamie Ward says he would love nothing more than to pull the Northern Ireland shirt on again and help the team reach the Euro 2020 Finals.

The 33-year-old has not played at international level for just over a year when he was a substitute in a scoreless draw in a friendly with the Republic of Ireland at the Aviva Stadium.

Ward's exclusion from the squad for the Euro 2020 qualifiers has been something of a surprise given his influence in previous campaigns.

The Scunthorpe United wide man was a key figure in the side that reached Euro 2016, scoring one of his four goals for Northern Ireland in a crucial 2-0 victory in Greece.

In the tournament itself, Ward played in all four games in France, starting three of them.

For the 2018 World Cup group games, the former Nottingham Forest and Derby star was also a regular playing on the wing and as a striker, scoring twice in the process.

Having had loan spells with Burton, Cardiff and Charlton, Ward moved to League Two Scunthorpe on a short-term deal in September and made an immediate impact netting and creating goals.

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After picking up a minor injury, the ex-Sheffield United ace is on his way back and is determined to impress for his club and make international boss Michael O'Neill sit up and take notice and consider him for the Euro 2020 play-off semi-final against Bosnia & Herzegovina in March.

In the cut and thrust of knockout football, when one inspirational moment might prove the difference, Ward's all-action style and experience could prove extremely useful for O'Neill.

"I've been in touch with Michael to say if he needs me I'll be there because playing for Northern Ireland means the world to me," he says.

"I would love nothing more to be back involved.

"I was a little bit shocked that I didn't get a call-up at the start of the Euro campaign but I've got on with it and my plan is to work hard, play well and give Michael something to think about.

"I still feel I have a lot to offer Northern Ireland with my experience and my desire to always do well.

"For me, it is all about controlling the controllables. I can only control the way I perform and then it's up to Michael who he wants in his squad.

"I totally understand that he has some young wingers in Jordan (Jones) and Gavin (Whyte) but I think with my experience I can help them out.

"It's about me doing what I can do and perform really well at club level and who knows what can happen in four months' time.

"Playing for Northern Ireland has given me the greatest moment in my football career going to the Euros in 2016 and experiencing playing in a major tournament.

"I've missed not being involved. It's incredible really how much I've missed pulling on the shirt and playing for our fans who are the best around.

"When you are with the lads there is a great atmosphere in the camp. We all have a good laugh and you have your jokers like Josh Magennis and Kyle Lafferty but, at the same time, when it comes to taking things seriously we get our head down and work hard."

On the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign, 35-times capped Ward says: "The boys were brilliant. With our group being so tough with Germany and Holland in it, us finishing third was the expected outcome. The 0-0 draw at Windsor against the Dutch was a great result and we were a bit unlucky not to get more points against the Netherlands and Germany."

On O'Neill taking up the reins at Stoke City, Ward adds: "Michael's a very good manager. I've enjoyed playing under him with Northern Ireland and I think he will do really well at Stoke."

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