Sunday 20 August 2017

Walters: We must carry this momentum into France

16 November 2015; Darren Randolph, Republic of Ireland, in action against Senad Lulic, Bosnia and Herzegovina. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Play-off, 2nd Leg, Republic of Ireland v Bosnia and Herzegovina. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE
16 November 2015; Darren Randolph, Republic of Ireland, in action against Senad Lulic, Bosnia and Herzegovina. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Play-off, 2nd Leg, Republic of Ireland v Bosnia and Herzegovina. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE

Cian Tracey and Liam Kelly

Jon Walters is fast becoming an Irish hero but he doesn't want the momentum to stop here as he looks forward to next summer's European Championships.

The Stoke striker's two goals booked Ireland's place in the tournament and he hailed the character that his side showed after bouncing back from previous disappointments in the group and he insisted that there would be plenty of new faces in the squad before they reach France next summer.

"You have always got to believe, it was never going to be a straight line to qualification," Walters said. "Scotland was a bit of a low, people were talking and saying we are not involved in the group halfway through after that game but we always knew at the back of our minds it would come back to bite them and it did.

"It's a good mix of youth and experience and I'm sure there'll be other players to come in so everybody's got something to fight for now.

"There's a long way to go between now and the summer but hopefully everybody will be fit when it comes around and ready to go.

"We've qualified, we're in France next year and I can't wait for it."

Walters revealed that his family had inspired him throughout the campaign and he couldn't hide his sense of pride after taking the acclaim from inside a packed Aviva Stadium.

"My family were up on the other side. The kids were there. The wife and kids, my aunties, uncles a lot of them really.

"My mum passed away when I was 11 and I made the decision at a very young game to come and play for Ireland. I was asked when I was 16 or 17. She was smiling down on me tonight I'm sure."

Robbie Brady spoke in the immediate aftermath of how he and Walters had pre-planned the move that had led to his second goal and he echoed those sentiments.

"Robbie said he was putting it in back post and so I made my run, I'm normally first man and he put it on a plate for me," revealed Walters. "There were some great performances all over the pitch, the likes of Richard Keogh at the back. There were some real shifts put in.

"It was a difficult game, it was a tense second half, it was backs against the wall but we've done it. You couldn't write it really, I said it, it was always the target right from the start to set out to get there. It was never going to be an easy road."

Determined

Now that Ireland have qualified, Walters is determined the right the wrongs of four years ago in Poland but he was quick to point out that it was a different group of players who will head to France.

"Let's be clear, we had a very difficult group (in 2012) but you want to perform on a bigger stage and that was one of them," he reflected. "There's a lot of players in there, a lot of young and exciting players who want to play at the highest level, now they have the chance.

"Bosnia are a good team, they got to the World Cup (2014) and have dangerous players. While the world rankings might tell a different story they are not all that. You see teams and can only put a performance in against the XI on the pitch. We did it against Germany, we did it here, hopefully we can take that to France," he added.

Darren Randolph was one of those players who has bolted into the team and squad and his fairytale few months was completed last night.

"It's unbelievable. I don't know what to say to you," said the West Ham stopper. "I wouldn't have seen this coming from last summer. But to play a part in it was brilliant. I wish it was like this all the time.

"It is a very honest, hard-working squad. And more so in these last two games. It's definitely a case of if you need to dig your mate out of trouble, you do so."

There is still plenty of club football to be played but the Irish keeper has surely done his reputation at West Ham no harm by his displays for the Republic.

"The way the season has panned out so far we are not even half-way through. I'd be happy to call it a day now and go to France. But there are still another six or seven months to go. I've watched plenty of tournaments.

"It's like a dream come true. It's something you think about when you are a little boy - to go to a major tournament. It hasn't really sunk in yet that we are going," added Randolph.

Irish Independent

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