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Saturday 25 March 2017

Walters: Boys are men now

Fit-again forward is sure Ireland can deliver again

Ireland striker Jonathan Walters limbers up during squad training at the FAI National Training Centre in Abbotstown, Dublin ahead of Friday’s World Cup qualifier against Wales. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile
Ireland striker Jonathan Walters limbers up during squad training at the FAI National Training Centre in Abbotstown, Dublin ahead of Friday’s World Cup qualifier against Wales. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile
Ireland midfielder Robbie Brady, who will miss the game on Friday through suspension. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile

The Irish team are top of the table in terms of World Cup qualification.

And even though the stars of the modern game like Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey are due in Dublin this week, Ireland's younger players deserve their seat at the top table of the game, according to veteran Jonathan Walters.

Since Euro 2016 ended from an Irish viewpoint, squad members Robbie Brady, Shane Duffy and Jeff Hendrick all moved clubs, for combined fees in the region of £26million.

Of course Brady (suspended) and Duffy (injured) won't be involved against Wales on Friday but for Walters, the tone for the success in this campaign was set back in June in France.

"There are some young players who have banged on for a few years and are very good players who can play at the highest level," says Walters.

"I think that it may take games - like the ones last summer against big teams - to get the performances that they had to realise that the players in those other teams are not so far ahead of them.

"That breathes confidence into them and it has carried on into the start of this campaign.

"Robbie, Jeff, James McClean and big Shane Duffy - who will be obviously missing on Friday - they will be the core for the years to come.

"Yes, it's the big games that they want to play in and then realise that they can compete and excel in those situations.

"They then get confidence and that's what can happen in tournament football - you grow as a player. And they certainly have."

Wales come to town with a world superstar in their ranks, Ireland not so much and yet it's Martin O'Neill's side who top the group.

But Walters knows that a campaign can rise and fall. At this point in the Euro 2016 campaign, after Ireland had lost to Scotland, it was the cocky Scots who were planning a summer in France and Ireland were heading out of contention - and we know how that turned out.

"You have ups and downs in the course of a campaign and results like that can turn out to be very good ones," Walters says of the draws (away to Germany, at home to Scotland and Poland) on the road to Euro 2016.

Massive

"But like I said, we can't get too far ahead of ourselves. We got beaten at this stage last time around and everyone thought it was the end of it.

"So you can't think we're sitting pretty now and doing very well, because as soon as you do that you get tripped up.

"Friday's a huge one for us, Wales have got some very good players, but hopefully we can come out this time next week with a smile on our faces. It's just massive, the result on Friday. The way the campaign has gone so far we're riding the crest of a wave but I'm sure there'll be ups and downs.

"We're not a Spain or a Brazil, or someone like that, winning every game easily, cantering through the group, we'll have good results and bad results and we just have to go with it, not get too down with the bad results, but if we can a result on Friday it creates a big gap between ourselves and Wales.

"It might be too far for them, who knows. Serbia and Austria are battling it out behind us but I'm sure they'll pick up results along the way as well."

Walters arrived in camp with with his fitness back and his confidence also restored as he recovered from surgery on an ankle problem to play, and score, for Stoke last weekend.

"Even going back to this time last year, it was frustrating," he says.

"After games it was taking a couple of days for the swelling to go down until it got to the point where, a week after the Liverpool game and then the Watford game [in December], I was really struggling with it. Once it gets to that point, you've got to go down the surgery route."

"But I feel really good now and that's all in the past. I'm ready to go in these important games coming up. It's a massive one on Friday and I'm all geared towards that now."

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