Stephen Ward assesses Gareth Bale challenge

Unlocking the Real Madrid star will be key to Ireland's chances on Friday

Stephen Ward assesses Gareth Bale challenge

©INPHO/Ryan Byrne

Ireland resume their World Cup qualification journey this weekend, with a home tie against Wales on Friday evening.

Following a positive start to the qualifiers, Martin O'Neill's side go into the game as Group D leaders. And a win against the visitors from across the pond would bring them a significant step closer to booking their ticket to Russia.

But as the game looms closer, one player in the Welsh pack is striking fear in Irish hearts. Indeed, Real Madrid's Gareth Bale has the individual skill to threaten our chances this Friday, and Ireland's Stephen Ward is acutely aware of the challenge that he brings.

When asked at today's press conference if Bale is a step-up from the quality of players he encounters in the Premier League, the Burnley player responded: "He's probably a step up from everything really. He's at one of the biggest clubs in the world and playing well. As a team, we're gonna have to try and nullify him. It's not going to be easy. It looks like he has sort of a free role for Wales and they wanna get him on the ball as much as possible.

Image: Seamus Coleman and James McCarthy at training today.

"We'll have to try and stop the service into him and when he does get it, get (to him) as close as we can. You can't afford to give a player with that ability too much space and too much time because he’ll hurt you. I'm sure come Friday night, the manager will have us raring to go and ready to give it everything.

"He's not the only Welsh player that can hurt us so we'll have to be on our game all round the pitch."

Performing in front of a home crowd with points on the line obviously brings an inherent pressure for Ireland. But Ward notes that the camp is focused on building on their winning form from previous games.

"We're disappointed dropping any points but especially at the Aviva. I think the manager speaks about it a lot, about having form is massive in these campaigns. It's one of those things that gives you a platform to qualify. If you can win your home games, it keeps you right up at the top.

Image: Ireland squad training today at the FAI National Training Centre in Abbotstown.

"We've done great work on the road and picked up massive wins. To back that up with a big win at home at the Aviva will set us up nicely for another big one in June (against Austria)."

"If we win, it’s a massive step towards us qualifying and we know if we don’t take maximum points, the group’s right back open again and Wales will be hot on our heels again."