Clark keen to end season on high with Ireland after Aston Villa relegation

David Maher, Sportsfile
The centre back endured a difficult season with the Birmingham club, dropping out of the Premier League, but is targeting personal Euro 2016 success

Aston Villa defender Ciaran Clark wants to put the disappointment of relegation behind him by ensuring that he plays a part in Euro 2016 with the Republic of Ireland.

The London native, who was part of a Villa side that finished at the very bottom of the Premier League, conceding a league high 76 goals, remains optimistic of ending his season on a high.

"It’s been a tough season for Aston Villa," Clark told reporters after Ireland’s open training session at the Aviva Stadium.

"To go down the way we did it wasn’t nice, but hopefully now if I can get involved, make sure I’m fit, and training well, and if I can push to get on the plane, that would be a high for me personally.

"I’d like to think that I have learned a lot through the tough times but I’d also like to think I’d try and do well no matter where I play. Like I said, I’ll just be working hard and training hard and hopefully I can be on that plane."

Despite what Clark may think of his own chances, his inclusion in O’Neill’s revised squad does suggest that he will be on the plane to France this summer barring injury, given the fact that fellow centre-backs Alex Pearce and Paul McShane were both dropped from the main squad on Monday.

Pearce and McShane’s demotion to the stand-by list mean that there are now just four centre-backs in Ireland’s 31-man squad, with Clark, Shane Duffy, John O’Shea and Richard Keogh all fighting for inclusion in O’Neill’s final 23-man squad.

Clark was selected in both the first and second legs of Ireland’s play-off win against Bosnia and Herzegovina last November and despite being a regular fixture, he refused to engage in any talk of a potential leadership role within the side.

"It’s a long, long way away. The squad hasn’t been picked or named yet so there’s still places up for grabs," the 26-year-old added.

"Everyone’s obviously trying to keep the head down and work and fight for a spot on that plane. Every player in the squad just wants to make sure that they can keep training well and stay fit.

"That’s the main thing, if everyone can stay fit, it will obviously give the gaffer a hard decision come the end of the week."

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Clark and his team-mates played a training game in front of a 4,000-strong crowd at the Aviva Stadium but both Southampton striker Shane Long and Clark were forced to leave the game after picking up knee and ankle knocks respectively.

Football Association of Ireland staff indicated that both players will be fine, with Clark later confirming that he is "fine".

"At the end of the season I had a little knock and I was just carrying that into the trip beforehand so I just wanted to make sure it was alright before getting into the full swing of things, but it’s fine,” he confirmed.