'We all have a big role to play' - Sean Ward on having two careers put on hold by coronavirus

By Mark SterlingBBC Sport NI
Sean Wards outmuscles Coleraine striker Eoin Bradley in a tussle for the ball
Ward has won the Irish Premiership with Glentoran, Linfield and Crusaders

Crusaders' Sean Ward is keen to stress the importance of perspective when asked about the impact the coronavirus crisis has had on him and his family.

However, as a PE teacher as well as a footballer, the 36-year-old is in the unusual position of having two separate careers ground to halt.

It is unclear when the Irish Premiership season will be able to resume after last week's suspension, while this week it has been announced that schools throughout Northern Ireland are to close indefinitely.

"It's almost like we're living in some sort of big movie - nobody has ever experienced anything like it," the former Linfield and Glentoran man reflected.

"It began to become that bit more real for us last week when my wife wasn't able to buy any baby milk for our three-month-old son. We've been able to get it ok this week, but there was definitely a panic setting in.

"It really is crazy. Someone described it to me last week as a 'once-in-a-century experience' and I hope none of us have to go through anything like this ever again.

Key messages

"You keep hearing so much information from so many places. Some of it is accurate and some it is rumour, but it can be easy to get overwhelmed with it all.

"You have to try and maintain a degree of normality while at the same time appreciating the seriousness of it all. We all have such a big job to do to help protect each other."

Sean Ward joined Crusaders from Linfield in 2017
Sean Ward joined Crusaders from Linfield in 2017

Ward knows that, like almost every sports club across Northern Ireland, he and his team-mates are likely to face a lengthy spell without competitive action.

And, while once again placing football in the context of a global health and economic crisis, he admitted that it will be tough for a lot of people.

"I've been playing football since I was three years old and have been playing senior football for longer than I haven't," he continued.

"In many ways, yes it is just football, but it is such a big part of my life and that of so many people's lives, whether you are a fan or a player. It's the same in other sports and it's been totally wiped from us, which can be difficult to cope with.

Filling the void

"I've dedicated my life to sport and to try and encourage a healthy attitude towards physical activity and exercise. When it's taken away from you, there's no doubt it's difficult."

With no training taking place at Seaview, Ward has said the personal training programmes provided for the players have been important.

And, given how used players are to seeing each other regularly, he is also grateful for the communications he has been getting from he club and the squad WhatsApp group.

"All football teams are close-knit communities and there is no doubt the messages amongst the players are a help during times like these," he said.

"Some of the messages are slightly less 'PG-friendly' than others, but it's important to take your mind of things. I've also liked some of the videos players have been posting online and have even uploaded one myself."

Similarly to the question as to when football will return, Ward is unsure as to when he will able to teach his pupils in school once again.

One thing he is certain of, however, is how hard he and his colleagues at Lismore Comprehensive have been working to ensure there is enough digital content and learning resources provided for their pupils to maintain their education.

"What we are doing at the minute is trying to put as much content as we can online to facilitate some form of learning for the pupils," he said.

Up to speed

"This is the profession we chose and we will do everything we possibly can to help and support the young people. I'm quite digitally savvy but for some of the teachers it has meant spending a lot of time getting themselves fully up to speed with the online resources.

"A lot of kids love going to school and love the social interaction that they have with their friends, and they are losing that. We have amazing kids at our school and I really feel for them."

Sean Ward holds the Gibson Cup aloft after Crusaders won the Premiership two years ago
Sean Ward holds the Gibson Cup aloft after Crusaders won the Premiership two years ago

Finally, turning his thoughts to football once again, Ward is adamant that the current Irish Premiership must be completed - no matter when, no matter how.

"100%, scrapping the season should not even be considered," he added.

"Clubs and players have put far too much into it, going back to May of last year really, and clubs have the chance of achieving things that they have never achieved before.

"To get to this point and say it is done just can't happen. There are still five or six clubs who can mathematically win the league, and as a player you never give it up."