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Thursday 23 November 2017

Walters could be good vintage for the clarets

'I moved from Stoke to play more games and I have more to offer'

'Tough games to go in World Cup but we're where we want to be'

New Burnley striker Jonathan Walters. Photo: Sportsfile
New Burnley striker Jonathan Walters. Photo: Sportsfile

News this week that free agent Shay Given is training with English non-league side Macclesfield Town is a sign that, at 41, the big man's career at the top level may be over.

But for one of Given's former international team-mates, a new chapter in the top flight is only beginning, and at the age of 33, as Jon Walters gears himself up for yet another season of Premier League football.

Speaking on home soil in Ireland yesterday, as his new club Burnley are in Carton House for a pre-season training camp, Walters was in reflective mode, looking back on the journey which has taken him from the obscurity of England's fourth tier, with Chester City, to being one of Ireland's leading men in a positive-looking World Cup campaign and a man who can still command - despite his age- a price tag of £2.5m.

"You always have aspirations of being the best you can. I've done well since then," Walters says of his time in England's lower reaches with the likes of Wrexham and Chester City.

I think you need luck in certain ways with injuries, particularly career-threatening ones touch wood, but you need to plod on.

"I think a lot of it is mental toughness. There's a lot of players in the lower leagues, that have unbelievable technical ability, who were released from the top academies.

"When I went to Blackburn first, we had two or three boys in the England planning group which were the best players in the year. There were two in my group and one the year below. Two years later, they were finished in football after being the best in England at the time. A lot of it is mental and having the hunger to keep on going."

And he made it clear that he's not in wind-down mode but has big ambitions for the season ahead with club and country.

He's had a frustrating time of late with Stoke City, and remarks that at one stage last season he'd played more games at international level than he had for his club, but Burnley boss Sean Dyche clearly feels that Walters has something to offer, and he feels the same.

"I'll always be hungry by wanting to improve and looking for the next bit of edge on anyone else. I'll be like that after I finish," he says, relieved to leave Stoke after some frustrating spells on the bench and on the fringes of late, like last season when he started just 13 league games.

"It got to the point where it was November and I'd played more games for Ireland than for Stoke. That was on mind and the possibility that it was going to be pretty similar at Stoke again this year. So I'm delighted with what happened and how it happened," he says of the move.

"It was probably going to be a similar scenario where I would have started the season. I might have worked my way in at some point but now it looks as though I'll be much more involved," he adds, insisting that new boss Dyche has made no promises about a guaranteed first-team slot.

"Everyone will be expecting to be playing games and I'll just be working away in the team and going from there," says Walters.

"He [Dyche] didn't say anything about playing. There were no assurances about me playing. I'll just be working my socks off these next few weeks and hopefully earning my spot in the team. Nobody is given anything here, I think that's clear for all to see."

He now has an all-Irish five-a-side team to play with in training at Burnley, and Walters says that the familiar faces like Robbie Brady and Stephen Ward made it easy for him to fit in, but international football is still a driving force.

He didn't watch last month's Confederations Cup in Russia to check out the stadiums ahead of World Cup 2018, but that World Cup ambition is driving him.

"It's massive for all the boys really, it's the pinnacle, it's where you want to play as a young lad," he says.

"Hopefully things go well here at Burnley, I stay fit and play and that can only benefit the international team going in when we are playing together.

"We are where we are, four points [ahead] with four games to go, huge games in the next two games, they are all huge games but Georgia away is not easy and with Serbia at home we'll have more of an idea of where we are. We are pretty happy, if you'd asked if we'd be happy with this with four games to go, you'd have taken it."

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