Thursday 23 February 2017

Encouraging signs for Euros as four Irish players score in mid-week Premier League action

Tom Rooney

Jonathan Walters arrived at the far post to crash home his 11th goal of the season: Getty Images
Jonathan Walters arrived at the far post to crash home his 11th goal of the season: Getty Images

While a clear cut favourite for the title again failed to be gleaned from the mid-week Premier League action, a foursome of Irish players certainly distinguished themselves.

Yesterday marked the six month countdown to the Republic of Ireland’s European Championship Group E opener against Sweden in Paris.  Martin O’Neill is likely to have strong inclination as to the 23 players he’ll bring to France but places are still up for grabs, particularly when considering what the Derry native’s preferred XI will be.

Of course, a week can be a lifetime in football terms, let alone half a year and, unfortunately, injuries and loss of form to key components of the Irish machine are probable.

However, for now, we should bask in the knowledge that Harry Arter, Jon Walters, Shane Long and James McClean were all on target for their respective clubs over the last 48 hours.

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Although Bournemouth were ultimately beaten 3-1 by a Dimitri Payet-inspired West Ham, Arter did give Eddie Howe’s side the lead by netting his first of the season.

Though Arter has been a regular member of Ireland’s larger training groups, he did not feature at all during the qualification campaign and is yet to add to his solitary cap. Still, his form for  Bournemouth has been steady all season and he will be hoping to prove his worth to O’Neill in Ireland’s three friendlies in the run in to the Euros. He may provide a needed technical spark should Wes Hoolahan or Robbie Brady fail to.

Call him what you will; cult hero, patron saint of Irish soccer but few players are currently more beloved than Jon Walters.

While Stoke’s attacking trio of Xherdan Shaqiri, Marko Arnautovic and Bojan Kirkic have been the source of countless plaudits for their offensive flare, Walters showed last that he still has a part to play in Mark Hughes’ revolution. To have 11 goals in the bag just after the halfway point of the season is no mean feat. 

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In a rare start at the expense of the injured Shaqiri, the former Ipswich captain put his team in front with a sumptuous finish as they went on to condemn Hoolahan and co. to a 3-1 defeat.

Shane Long’s profligacy in front of goal has, at times, hampered his progression at club and international level but, in Southampton’s pivotal win over Watford, the Tipperary man found the net for the eighth time this season with his first half strike.

Finally McClean, who, in truth, has largely found himself in the headlines for the wrong reasons of late. Yet, his showings for Tony Pulis’ West Brom have not gone unnoticed and his 86th minute equaliser away to Chelsea rescued an invaluable point for the Baggies.

During the 2-2 draw, McClean was subjected to relentless abuse from the Stamford Bridge crowd, though he responded to their taunts in the most positive conceivable manner.

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