Football

'Anything Against Rovers, We Want To Win. I Wouldn't Give A Shit If It's A Game Of Kerbs'

'Anything Against Rovers, We Want To Win. I Wouldn't Give A Shit If It's A Game Of Kerbs'

It won't be corporeal but there will be football this week. It's a game for which Keith Ward has spent 20 years preparing. Though, when he stuck that CD into the PlayStation to play FIFA 2000, he could not have foreseen what it was all to be for.

On Friday night at 8pm, we've got an unusual Dublin Derby. Streaming live on the Balls.ie Facebook page in aid of Pieta House, Bohs midfielder Ward takes on Shamrock Rovers counterpart Aaron McEneff in a game of FIFA 2020.

"I've been playing FIFA my whole life and Football Manager - I'm a bit of a nerd when it comes to that kind of stuff. I just got Salford to the Premiership in Football Manager!" says Ward.

"A few of the lads would have liked to [play] but when it comes down to FIFA, they know I'm the big dog.

"Anything against Rovers, we want to win. I wouldn't give a shit if it's a game of kerbs or hopscotch - I want to win.

"If we get a bit of banter out of it and our fans get a little one over them, then it's worth it."

These extraordinary times have given Ward some extra hours to hone the nimbleness of his thumbs. Unlike some teammates, he has little interest in picking up any new skills. "I'm not doing yoga or learning to play the piano like Paddy Kirk. I'm too lazy to do stuff like that," he says with some minor disgust at the thought.

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Ward is still training for real life football. Bohs are making sure everyone is clocking their miles with GPS trackers - there's no hiding from the grind, even among 20 others on Zoom.

June 19th - circled in pencil, not permanent marker - is the date targeted for the return of League of Ireland action should the Covid-19 restrictions be sufficiently lifted. Ward isn't optimistic about that date.

I meet JJ [Lunney] for our runs and I'm just thinking, 'Am I just doing this because we're doing it or are we getting back soon?'

Sometimes you're running and you're like, 'Fuck this. If we're not going back training, why am I doing this?'

I know we've been given a date and you'd love think that we are back in the middle of June. It's the unknown that's the worst part. I'd run all day if I knew we were back next week or in three weeks' time.

To be honest, I'm quite worried, I think our season is going to be scrapped. I hear that pubs won't be open until September or October. When you hear that a pub can't open, how is a ground going to open?

I am a bit worried that our league could be in a bit of trouble. If every club could pay their players, they would. The League of Ireland has struggled at the best of times. To go through something like this, it could finish some clubs. I'd hope to think not.

I'm trying to stay positive. I just can't wait to get back training. Going in every day, mixing with 20 lads, it's hard to substitute that.

There is the possibility of games behind closed doors but for a league which lives on gate receipts, it would be like walking into the desert without knowing where the next watering hole is. Ward thinks playing a Dublin Derby without fans would simply be "weird".

"I played for UCD for two or three years and I'm used to playing in front of no one," he says.

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"Playing for a Bohs or Rovers or someone like that [with no crowd], I'd find it very strange.

"If it meant that it helped the club, I would, but personally I don't think I'd enjoy it. Playing for Bohs and playing League of Ireland, as lucky as I feel playing in the league, I love playing because I get to go out and play in front of fans every week. That's what it's all about. If I didn't get to play in front of fans. I'd just sign for Swords Celtic tomorrow and play with my mates.

"It's hard to know. If it was good for the club and it meant income was coming in, you'd just get on with it."

Ward, not quite in the twilight of his career - the early evening might be more accurate - knows the number seasons he has left playing in front of those crowds are dwindling.

"I'm what, 30 this year, if I can get another two or three years out of my career, I'd be doing well.

"Football is a short career. I've had a cruciate [injury] and missed football for a year. I've two or three bad years at clubs. I'm at an age now where I can't afford to miss out a year in football.

"If it came to this season being scrapped, I'd be devastated."

Bohemian FC’s Keith Ward will face Aaron McEneff of Shamrock Rovers in FIFA 2020 for the first-ever virtual #DublinDerby at 8pm on Friday April 24th. The event, produced by Teneo, will be streamed live on the Balls.ie Facebook page.

Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

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