Clark Remaining Grounded as Euro Dream Approaches
When the fixtures were announced for Ireland’s Euro 2016 qualifying campaign, it was immediately clear that the outcome of the home and away ties against Scotland would prove vital to Ireland’s chances of reaching the finals in France. As the final whistle sounded in the Aviva Stadium on the 13th June, Ireland were again undone by a familiar foe in Shaun Moloney, who six months previously, had put a huge dent in Ireland’s chances of reaching the tournament proper. Even the most optimistic of Irish fans were putting their passports away for another qualifying campaign. However, one of the key traits of this Irish team is resilience, an inability to throw in the towel when things are at there bleakest. This is evident through the remarks made recently by Ireland’s 17 times capped central defender, Ciaran Clark. “I suppose half way through the qualifying stage, there was a time where people thought we couldn’t do it anymore. Obviously we proved them wrong and we managed to get there. It was a massive confidence boost and a great feeling to get through,” said Clark. This belief is not only evident in Clark himself but throughout the whole squad. “Everyone still believed we could do it. The group of lads in the squad have got that belief and confidence in knowing that if we could just take each game as it came and try to pick up as many points as we could, that there would always be a chance”. Ireland will need this belief if they are to emerge successfully from a daunting group which includes the world’s No. 1 ranked team, Belgium, 2012 finalists, Italy and tournament regulars, Sweden. The quality of the group is of no surprise to Clark, who knows that when you reach the finals of the competition, you will be vying against the best. “ There are so many fantastic teams that have made it, so any game is going to be tough. It’s a difficult group but we’ll go into that group full of confidence knowing that if we can get a couple of points it could be good enough”.
At a personal level, Clark’s pride in representing Ireland at a major tournament is easy to see. Having captained the English national team at U19 and U20 level, he switched allegiance to the Irish national side in late 2010, stating in a subsequent interview that it never felt right playing for England and that Ireland was always the country he wanted to represent. “Obviously it will be massive for me and for my family to be involved in that (Euro 2016), but like I said, hopefully I can stay injury-free and it would be nice to be involved at some stage”. It was somewhat fitting that Clark’s family were in attendance at the Aviva Stadium as Ireland’s sealed their passage to the summer tournament and Clark himself put in another accomplished performance at the back alongside Richard Keogh. “I had family and a couple of friends over as well. They were all at the game and obviously, it was a brilliant feeling”. However, Clark’s feet will be remaining firmly on the ground over the coming months, and wont be letting the inevitable clamour for tickets distract him from what is the ultimate goal at the end of the season. “Family and friends and many more. But like I said, its about staying lucky and staying injury-free and being able to play a part in it”.
Looking ahead, Clark has the unenviable task of preventing his club, Aston Villa, from playing championship football next season. This will be the sole focus for him over the coming months but also knowing that playing as much football for his club will only help achieve his dream of playing a key role for Ireland in France in a couple of months time. “At the minute its just concentrating on club football for me. If I can keep playing, keep getting games and staying injury-free, hopefully, fingers crossed, I can be part of the squad that goes over”.
After seeing Clark’s performance over the two leg play-off tie in November and his own modesty aside, Irish fans will be confident that Clark will have a seat on the plane to France in June.