Monday 20 August 2018

Jon Walters: I could never have walked away like that

Veteran striker still has a burning desire to play for Ireland

In an ideal world, Walters would have walked away following this summer’s World Cup, but fairytale endings are few and far between in this game. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
In an ideal world, Walters would have walked away following this summer’s World Cup, but fairytale endings are few and far between in this game. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Deep down, Jon Walters knew he was nowhere near 100pc fit, but he had come too far in helping Ireland make it back to a major tournament to throw in the towel that easily.

That same kind of resilience and commitment has resulted in the 34-year-old scrapping any notions of hanging up his international boots. It will also help him revive his club career, which has somewhat stalled.

Walters has had a tough time since joining Burnley last summer. Injuries limited him to just three appearances, and it appears almost certain that he will be plying his trade elsewhere next season.

Bouncing back from setbacks is nothing new to Walters, however, and he has every intention of taking the latest one in his stride.

Coming away with Ireland has reminded him of the good days, while at the same time reassured him that it was the right call to play on for another campaign.

In an ideal world, Walters would have walked away following this summer's World Cup, but fairytale endings are few and far between in this game.

Instead, the prospect of helping Ireland qualify for Euro 2020, with the likelihood of playing a couple of games on home soil if they reach the finals, was too much to turn down.

Tonight, Walters returns to the Stade de France. The last time he played there, he battled through the pain barrier when Ireland secured a draw in the Euro 2016 opener.

"I tore my Achilles a couple of weeks before and I was doing everything - three sessions a day, I was non-stop all day, every day," he recalls.

"I jumped in the first few minutes against Sweden and I was like 'Oh!' But I played and then I was in bits so I came off. I missed the two games and then it was a last throw of the dice against France.

"I was sore for a long while after it. It was tough. But I still felt like I could play. It wasn't like I was getting there and I was taking someone else's spot. I didn't want to do that.

"You have to do a certain amount before you play. You can't just go, "All right, I haven't trained in a week, I'm going to play'.

"I was training. I remember it, I jumped and tried to sprint and I couldn't move. I was just grinding it out and it was getting worse and worse. Wes (Hoolahan) scored and it was great. But it's just part and parcel isn't it? You're dealt a hand. I'm very lucky to be in football.

"The lads grew as a team and it was great to see. They had a taste for it. Obviously it's devastating to miss out on the World Cup but they are hungry now to qualify now for the Euros again."

With Martin O'Neill's striking options severely depleted for tonight's clash, it shows the importance of having a player of Walters' quality available.

He may be turning 35 later this year, but he still feels that he can play a key role. That view is shared by the management.

"Don't think for one moment that Jon will want to stick around and just be a good pro around the place," Roy Keane said last week.

"Certainly when he comes over here he will be on the fringes of starting.

"This idea that Jon can be not playing regularly - or not playing at all - and then turn up here and we say, 'Go on Jon, do the business'… they are big demands on him. But we know that a fit and strong Jon Walters is a big plus to the Ireland squad."

Welcome

For Walters, it was vital not to feel like he was overstaying his welcome. Speak to anyone within the squad, though, and they will tell you how valued he is.

"The idea was to get to a World Cup, then a few of us would say, 'We got to a World Cup, great' and there would be younger players coming through," Walters adds.

"Not playing towards the end, that was difficult. I don't think I could have left it like that.

"I've still got a lot to offer so I wanted to play as much as I can. With players coming through, we haven't got a lot of options at the minute. We're short of numbers. Scott (Hogan) is missing and Sean (Maguire) has got an injury.

"All it takes is for something like that to happen and we're very short. I know I've got a role to play and some of that is to help players integrate and develop.

"You want to play every minute of every game. If I'm playing, it's up to those players to take the shirt off me and that can only help everyone.

"If they get into the team it's up for me to impress to get back in the team. That competition is healthy and we all support each other, whoever is playing here."

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