Farewell to Wardy
Sean Dyche confirmed, in the aftermath of the Arsenal game last Sunday, that Stephen Ward would be leaving Burnley some five years after we signed him from Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Injury meant a difficult first season for him at Turf Moor, and likewise his last season, but there is undoubtedly more than enough in between to tell us just what a good player he’s been for us and what an astute signing he was.
The Dubliner had started his career with Bohemian in the League of Ireland and moved to England when Mick McCarthy took him to Wolves in 2007. He was a striker then but was eventually moved into the left-back position after initially transferring to the left side of midfield.
His final season at Wolves, in 2013/14, was spent in a season long loan at Brighton as the West Midlands club tried to cut costs having been relegated to League One and he looked all set to sign for Brighton in a permanent deal when we stepped in at the 11th hour on 15th August 2014 to bring him to the Turf.
He walked into a dressing room that included his former Wolves team mates David Jones, Michael Kightly, Jason Shackell and Sam Vokes who had all been in the Wolves team that was promoted with us in 2009.
Ben Mee was playing in his position at the time so he had a wait for his debut. He did play in the League Cup defeat against Sheffield Wednesday but when he got his first taste of Premier League football for us it was in the centre of midfield in a 2-2 draw at Leicester. Two games later and he replaced Mee in the team and after three games, which included our first win of the season against Hull, we travelled to Stoke. “I’m not sure he gives us any more than Mee,” I said, just before he turned in a brilliant performance as the back to the walls Clarets won 2-1 when, needless to say, Jon Walters scored the Stoke goal.
Unfortunately, two games later, at home against Newcastle, he broke his leg and went on to make just two more appearances that season, both as a substitute.
Fit again, it was about trying to win a place in the team following relegation with Mee once again holding down the place. Once more, he got a game in a League Cup defeat, this time at Port Vale, but his only league appearance in the first half of the season was at his old club Wolves where he came on twelve minutes from the end and received a warm reception from the home fans.
It was the 3-0 Boxing Day defeat at Hull that won him his place. Changes had to be made after that defeat and I think we all knew that Michael Duff’s time was up. Sean Dyche opted to move Mee alongside Michael Keane in the centre and brought in Ward on the left hand side of the defence.
On the day he put pen to paper at Turf Moor I thought it was an underwhelming signing but for the next two and a half years we saw just how good a player he is and I’d go as far as to say he’s one of the best three left-backs I’ve ever seen at Burnley and that’s high praise indeed when you think that the other two are Alex Elder and Keith Newton.
Having got back into the team, he didn’t play on a losing side until the start of the next season as we went 23-23 undefeated and there were some outstanding displays to come over the next two seasons back in the Premier League.
He missed a few games last season and I thought we really missed him, but the 2017/18 season, that started so well for him with his goal at Chelsea on the opening day, proved to be his last as a first team player.
Wardy featured in the Europa League and started the first three Premier League games of the season. A month later he was in the team beaten at Burton in the League Cup but soon after it was confirmed he would have knee surgery. He’s fit again; he played in our two FA Cup games in January, but hasn’t been able to win his place back in the team with the emergence of Charlie Taylor who has really taken his opportunity this season. Even so, he won his place back in the Republic of Ireland squad when McCarthy, back in charge, named him in his first squad. At that point he opted to retire from international football having won a half century of caps.
With Walters having retired, our number of Ireland internationals is reducing, but Wardy is one who will always be remembered with affection by the Burnley fans as well as those within the club, including his manager and the player who has replaced him in the team.
Asked about him after the Arsenal game, Dyche said: “He’s been a magnificent servant for us. We have to make decisions, simple as that, and there will be more over the summer. Ward’s been brilliant for us, absolutely brilliant, he’s done a fantastic job.”
“He’s a top pro and more than anything, a top guy as well who is great off the pitch,” said Taylor. “I wish him all the best, I’m good mates with him and I’m sure he’ll have no problems finding another club.”
Underwhelming signing? I got that one very wrong didn’t I? What a brilliant signing he was, and for no more than around a million. Brighton weren’t happy when we stepped in and we found out exactly why. Wherever Wardy goes I’m sure we will all wish him the very best.Follow UpTheClarets:
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