Rough ride ahead but road to Russia still clear - Walters
Jonathan Walters has warned that the route to Russia for the 2018 World Cup finals will not be plain sailing for this Irish team.
But the veteran forward has asked supporters to stick with the team on their journey which should lead - Walters hopes - to only a fourth-ever appearance on the World Cup stage for the Republic of Ireland side.
Qualification has never been easy, really, for Ireland. It took a couple of upsets - like Ireland's win at home to Germany and a shock defeat for Scotland in Georgia - to secure a passage to Euro 2016, major bumps along the way to France in the form of two poor showings against Scotland.
Giovanni Trapattoni's side could have missed out on Euro 2012, having earned a paltry three points from a possible 12 against Russia and Slovakia, had Armenia and Slovakia not cancelled each other out.
The Group D table looks good today when viewed through Irish eyes, but despite Ireland being behind leaders Serbia only on goal difference, doubts nag away.
Home form is especially worrying, as at Lansdowne Road in this campaign Ireland have laboured to a very unimpressive 1-0 win over Georgia, failed to create a chance of note in a 0-0 draw with Wales and needed a late equaliser from Walters to eke out that draw with the Austrians.
Serbia visit Dublin in September after a trip to Tbilisi and Walters has warned that there's a rough ride ahead.
"We are not that type of team to just ease through a group," says Walters, who showed yet again in Sunday's draw with Austria how important the 34-year-old is to Ireland.
"We are still unbeaten, there's still that little gap and we'll take it from there.
"I think it's still in our own hands. We still have teams to come here. We always said there would be ups and downs and everything wouldn't be plain sailing."
Austria have come to fear the sight of Walters as he's scored three goals in two home games with the Austrians.
Walters also loves playing in Dublin. Of the last seven goals scored at home by the national team, five of them have come from the boot or head of Walters.
Like Glenn Whelan, his position at Stoke is not so clear and while he is expected to be at the club next term, his age (he turns 34 in September), injuries and lack of game time (he started only 13 Premier League games for Mark Hughes' side last term) could all count against him.
But for all that, the former Ipswich player remains vital to Ireland, and it's not insignificant that he had the captain's armband twice in the last week, for the game at home to Uruguay when he led the side out from the start, and against Austria when he took over the captaincy once skipper Glenn Whelan was replaced.
Walters will indeed be 34 when the World Cup kicks off in Russia in 12 months' time but he plans to be there, though is he is aware that a lot of work, hard work, needs to be done before that's a reality for Ireland.
A home win over Austria would have been a pre-tournament target but it's not worked out like that.
"You probably would have sat there yourself before qualifying and said 'we'll pick up points here and we'll pick up points there'," says Walters.
"You do it week in, week out at Premier League level - it never happens that way.
"It didn't happen in the last qualifying campaign and it didn't happen in the Euros. It doesn't happen how you think it will, but we are still in it, that's the main thing, and there is still plenty to play for.
"They are all key games. Georgia away is going to be extremely difficult, Wales away. We've got Georgia and Serbia in a few days - it's going to be a quick turnaround.
"These are hugely important games. Let's not forget that (against Austria) we missed James McCarthy and Shane Long. We were short on the ground. We only had, as recognised strikers, me and Daryl (Murphy).
"Hopefully Seamus can get back at some point and we can qualify for him to get back in."
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