Stephen Ward relishing Premier League return

Stephen Ward in action for the Republic of Ireland
Stephen Ward in action for the Republic of Ireland
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New signing Stephen Ward is relishing a return to the Premier League after cutting his ties with Wolves.

The 29-year-old, who celebrated his birthday on Wednesday, was pushed out to the periphery at Molineux as the club looked to rebuild following relegation to League One.

Ward, among others, became ostracised from the squad and was allowed out on loan to Brighton last term by head coach Kenny Jackett to pursue first team football.

“It’s great being back in the Premier League,” he said. “It was obviously tough at Wolves – they made it quite clear that there was a few of us there that they wanted to move on.

“It was difficult and we all had to go out on loan to get some game time. I really enjoyed it at Brighton and it gave me the stepping stone to get a move like this. I’m grateful to Brighton for giving me that opportunity. I knew my time was up at Wolves.”

Ward added: “We were training on our own and that’s not a nice place. A lot of the lads that were in that group just wanted to play football and that’s the reason they went out on loan last year.

“These things happen in football these days. I had some fantastic years there, I’ll always be grateful for my time there, but it was disappointing how it ended.

“There were a few lads there that they were desperate to get off the wage bill. Last year they told me and a few other lads that they were going with a different sort of approach. There was about eight of us in the group. We’d been there six/seven/eight seasons so it was time to move on so they could start some of the younger lads.

“It was difficult going back but you have to be as professional as possible and make sure you’re fit and healthy and ready to go if you get the chance to move on. Although we were training on our own they gave us plenty of game time in pre-season. We still worked hard and it was still a tough pre-season. I feel fine and I’m feeling stronger every day with the training we’ve been doing here.”

The AMEX Stadium looked likely to be Ward’s next port of call on a permanent basis, with new Seagulls boss Sami Hyppia keen to secure his services. However, the experienced defender made a dramatic late U-turn after learning of interest from Sean Dyche and became the seventh summer signing at Turf Moor.

Ward, who made 45 appearances for Brighton on the way to a two-legged Championship play-off semi-final defeat to Derby County, said: “It wasn’t really a tough decision at all. To move to a team that has just been newly promoted is a great chance for me to get back in the Premier League and one that I’m really looking forward to.

“I was at Wolves a long time so it’s obviously something different for me and a new chapter in my career and one I’m really looking forward to.”

Ward added: “Brighton had obviously had a bid accepted and I was on my way down there. Burnley then had a similar sort of bid.

“Once a Premier League club comes it’s a massive pull.

“It’s disappointing obviously from the point of view down at Brighton. They looked after me really well last year and I really enjoyed the year down there, it’s a fantastic club and there are some really great people working there and I can only thank them for their interest.

“But when a Premier League club comes along, especially a club like Burnley who I played against last year and saw the spirit and willingness they had to do well, it was an easy decision in the end.”

The Republic of Ireland international, recently selected in Martin O’Neill’s 36-man squad for games against Oman and Georgia in September, was on the books at Molineux for seven-and-a-half-years, which included topping the Championship in 2008/09. And he’s been re-united with several faces from that title-winning squad as Sam Vokes, Michael Kightly, David Jones and Jason Shackell all featured for Wolves that year under Mick McCarthy.

“There are a few of us here,” he said. “Obviously it’s nice to have some familiar faces when you’re joining a club, it can be a little bit daunting on your first day.

“It’s great to see that their careers have blossomed since we last played together as well.

“It’s obviously nice that we’re all back in the Premier League together.

“It’s a really tight-knit group, the lads are really hard working and fighting for the same cause. It’s great to join a group like that, it makes the transition a lot easier and I’m enjoying it so far.”