Friday 18 August 2017

Hero Walters delighted his finals dream is still alive

Jonathan Walters could be on his way to Burnley. Photo: REUTERS
Jonathan Walters could be on his way to Burnley. Photo: REUTERS
Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

Jon Walters hopes to be sending postcards marked "from Russia with love" back home next summer despite the disappointment of gaining just a point from Sunday's Group D clash with Austria.

Walters refuses to say 'nyet' to his World Cup dream, and with four matches left to play, he remains steadfast in his belief that Martin O'Neill's squad have what it takes to join the elite at the 2018 finals.

That's the spirit which drove the Stoke City player to the edge of the pain barrier and beyond for the cause against the Austrians, and which makes him one of Martin O'Neill's most valuable players.

His 85th-minute equaliser saved the Irish blushes and he felt he should have been awarded a penalty when Austrian defender Sebastian Prodl nicked his foot as Walters was preparing to unleash a goal-bound shot.

Walters was clearly hurt in that exchange, but once the referee turned down the penalty claim, he immediately focused on the next move, and hauled himself into position for an Irish throw-in.

Through the six qualifying games to date, only three players have started every tie - Walters, goalkeeper Darren Randolph and James McClean.

Each of them has delivered the consistent level of quality and effort demanded by O'Neill, and the desire for more was evident as Walters spoke of the challenges to come in the 2017-18 season.

Unbeaten

"This time next year I hope we will be heading to Russia.

"We're still unbeaten. There is still that little gap. We'll take it from there.

"We always said there would be ups and downs and everything wouldn't be plain sailing.

"We're not that type of team to just ease through a group, so it was going to be difficult.

"We wanted three points (against Austria), but we didn't get them and we'll go again.

"There are lots of important games coming up now. I think it's still in our own hands," he said.

Walters is a man in a hurry.

He will celebrate his 34th birthday on September 20, and in the demanding role he plays for the Irish team, he cannot look much past this World Cup campaign to create special memories.

Georgia, Serbia, Moldova and Wales stand in the way of Walters achieving his ambitions, but he looks forward to a rejeuvenated Ireland squad being up for the challenge.

The squad will be strengthened by the return of Shane Long and James McCarthy, and he would love to see the Irish reach the finals and give Seamus Coleman a chance to play in Russia.

"We are still in it, that's the main thing," said Walters.

Irish Independent

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