Saturday 20 January 2018

Westwood's sunny outlook captures the mood

JOHN O'BRIEN

Keiren Westwood makes the short journey from the Ireland dressing-room to the bus waiting at the other side of the tunnel. On a day of beaming sunshine and another Ireland victory, the Sunderland goalkeeper carries only glad tidings. Of himself and others too. That is the kind of day it has been. Good news seeping out of every pore.

"Trap has done a great job to be fair," Westwood begins. "We're in the Euro finals and we deserve to be there. We're going over there to enjoy ourselves and to do the country proud. We're not a bad side and I think we might surprise a few people while we're out there."

Westwood has the Wolves' defender Kevin Foley as a room-mate on Ireland trips and, although Foley missed yesterday's encounter against Bosnia through injury, the bulletin offered by his colleague was sunny and upbeat. "Kev's fine," said Westwood. "He'll be back training in Italy this week and he'll be absolutely fine. He'll be ready for the championships, no question about that."

Good news and happy faces all round. Jonathan Walters would have preferred if the meaty header he aimed at the Bosnian goal in the 74th minute had bulged the net rather than rebounding off a post, but all told it wasn't too much of a bind for the Stoke striker. Another decent shift put in. Another message solidly delivered to the Ireland manager.

"Ah you know, Robbie and Kev ran them ragged in the first half," Walters says modestly. "They didn't make any substitutions so their boys were tired. Me and Shane came on, just different options. It was a great goal from Shane with the header. I hit the bar with one and he put his in. Asmir made a couple of decent saves and it was a good result in the end."

The tightness and rigid organisation that defines Stoke is said to find its closest mirror in Ireland and Walters, unsurprisingly, feels nicely at home here. "Everyone works so hard for each other," he says. "There's such a good bond between the boys. Attacking wise we've got so many options between Duffer, McClean, Aiden McGeady and Hunty and with service like that from the wings, it's great to be a striker."

The tape recorder is pointed at Walters but, in truth, you could aim it at any of the players bound for Italy and expect the same response. "It's great," he says, "just can't wait for it to get started. Everyone's raring for it to get going. It'll be good to get to Italy and get a couple of sessions under our belt, do a few things that need to be worked on.

"It's been a long season and we just want to get it started now. The fans were out in numbers today and it was a nice send-off for us all and we'll obviously take a lot of confidence from the result." Ireland captain Robbie Keane echoed those sentiments. "Of course you want to win no matter what game you are involved in," he said, "but as you are just leaving for the Euros, it is even more so. If you are here and you lose by a good few goals or something like that, it could knock the confidence of the team.

"The confidence is obviously high at the moment. It's been high for a couple of years now because of the way we have been playing and the performances we have showed. We haven't lost too many games certainly of late."

Hard to beat. Not losing games. The type of formula any Ireland team would want to be bringing with them to a major football tournament.

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