Walters: Don't write off hopes
Stoke man is keen to avoid repeat of 2012 Euro disaster
The pain in Poland four years ago will not be repeated in France this summer, Jonathan Walters has promised as Ireland's preparations for Euro 2016 move into gear.
International football is back on the menu after a a five-month break with the friendly games at home to Switzerland (Friday) and Slovakia (tomorrow week).
One man who has a hunger to do well is Stoke City forward Walters. It's been a good couple of days for him: on Saturday he scored for Stoke in a deserved 2-1 win away to Watford, and last night he was named as senior player of the year at the FAI International awards. The other big prizes on the night went to Robbie Brady (young player of the year), Shane Long (goal) and Richie Towell (League of Ireland) and Alan Browne (U21).
But the decision to give the main award of the year to Walters was a correct and justified one, the big forward missing just one game in the qualifying campaign, when he was suspended for the away leg of the play-off against Bosnia.
He played a big part in qualification and as one of the survivors from Euro 2012, he's keen for 2016 to be a lot more memorable.
"Obviously I had a taste of the Euros four years ago and it was very disappointing how it ended but there are a lot of players still around from then and hopefully that experience will stand to us. It's been a successful campaign and hopefully it will be a successful summer," said Walters after lifting his award last night.
"At a tournament you have to soak it in and enjoy it as not many players get to play in the biggest tournaments, so you have to soak it in. You want to get the right results as you don't enjoy it by going out early, trust me, if it ends the way it did the last time.
"It's the toughest group by far and everyone will write us off before it but that suits us down to the ground," added Walters.
"Poland is a long time ago now but it was disappointing the way it ended. You have to look forward. We've qualified for this and some younger players will get their first taste of tournament football.
"Some of us have been there before. We have these games coming up and there's a lot of places to fight for and some boys haven't been capped yet. It's a good chance for them to shine and fight for places and that will bring out the best in some people," added the Stoke man.
His team-mates at club level will miss the friendly games but Walters says the pair are keen to be on that plane to France. "We've Marc Wilson who picked up a knock, hopefully he'll be back in time, he's rehabbing well, Shay Given too," says Walters.
"Shay's been training the past two weeks, and will step it up in the next couple of weeks, with game time. You don't want to be picking up any bad knocks now, but you can't plan for it, you just play each game and give it everything you've got, and hopefully your form is good for the summer."
Last night's award meant a lot to Walters. "You can't really describe what it means. It's nice to get a personal accolade but it's down to the team and the staff and they are a big part of the reason too," he admitted. I'm just happy to do my part. We have a big summer ahead of ourselves and we're all looking forward to that."
Ireland squad v Switzerland/Slovakia
Randolph (West Ham), Forde (Millwall), Elliot (Newcastle). Christie, Keogh (Derby), Coleman (Everton), O'Shea (Sunderland), Pearce (Bristol C), Duffy (Blackburn), Clarke (A Villa), McShane (Reading), Ward (Burnley), Doherty (Wolves). Brady, Hoolahan (Norwich), McCarthy (Everton), Hendrick (Derby), Arter, O'Kane (Bournemouth), Whelan (Stoke), Gleeson (Birmingham), Meyler (Hull), Quinn (Reading), McGeady (Sheffield W), McClean (WBA), Judge (Brentford), Hayes (Aberdeen), Pilkington (Cardiff), Walters (Stoke), Keane (LA Galaxy), Long (Southampton), Murphy (Ipswich), Doyle (Colorado Rapids).