Tuesday 16 January 2018

Walters praise for Wes

'Exceptional' display from goalscorer who is sorry to drop points

The Republic of Ireland’s Jonathan Walters goes for the ball against Sweden’s Oscar Lewicki during their Euro 2016 Group E match at the Stade de France in Saint Denis, Paris yesterday. Photo: Paul Mohan/Sportsfile
The Republic of Ireland’s Jonathan Walters goes for the ball against Sweden’s Oscar Lewicki during their Euro 2016 Group E match at the Stade de France in Saint Denis, Paris yesterday. Photo: Paul Mohan/Sportsfile

We have had a lot of tragedies and travesties in Irish football.

The latest one is the fact that it took until his 35th year on this planet for Wes Hoolahan to play for his country in a major tournament.

The smallest man on the field came up with the biggest moment of his far-too-short international career when he scored the goal which gave Ireland the lead and gave us all hope for a few minutes, before Sweden engineered a goal via the head of Ciarán Clark.

Before the match, Zlatan Ibrahimovic had spoken of his desire to prove his "legend" and to "dominate" this tournament. The veteran had some quiet moments, shackled for long spells by the tireless Glenn Whelan.

He's still the biggest star on the field - in the press centre after the match, a 50-strong batch of Swedish journalists sprinted and squeezed into a tiny area to hear a few words from Zlatan after the game.


There was not the the same international clamour to hear Hoolahan but the man from Portland Row had, on his first appearance in a major finals at international level, made his mark.

"I thought Wes was exceptional," said Jon Walters after the game.

"He gets on the ball and not many players can get it off him. He's unbelievable on the ball, really, and he creates things that others can't. It was great for him to get on the scoresheet, he's shown his quality there on the pitch. Not many people can get it off Wes. He's not the quickest, but he can drop the shoulder and be two yards past you, with his body movement. He's a great player and a great asset for us."

It seemed as if his team-mates were queueing up to praise the man who wore No. 20 for Ireland last night.

And seeing how well they did last night, you can only wonder if Euro 2012 could have had a different outcome of Hoolahan and Seamus Coleman had been involved instead of watching events in Poland on TV.

"Wes is a top player," says Coleman, a big fan of the man from Norwich, like Walters.

"He is a very different player to what we have in the squad. He is someone that links the play, gets in behind defences and makes great intelligent passes.

"He's a top lad and it's great for Wes, the journey he has been on, to be showing it on the European stage. He has been fantastic," added Coleman.

If last night was a taster of what's to come in Euro 2016 from Hoolahan, Saturday against those classy Belgians (who did, however, struggle to show their class for long spells against Italy last night) will be the main course.


"There is a lot of positives from it,"Hoolahan said of last night's game. "We created numerous chances, we kept the ball really well and we look forward to playing Belgium on Saturday. It was a great performance by the lads, Sweden obviously got the equaliser but we should be proud of the performance."

For Hoolahan, at the age of 34 and 12 years after he graced the Champions League qualifiers for Shelbourne with his class, this was a late arrival on the big stage. A big moment - that goal - followed by the down time of the Swedish equaliser.

"The goal was of the highest points of my career but the draw in the end was disappointing, though overall we can be proud of our performance. I think they were stunned by our performance, they way we played, the way we passed the ball. I think we did really well."

Was that the tastiest goal of his career? "Obviously, the moment, the way it was, scoring in front of the fans in the Euros, it was probably my best goal yeah," he says.

"I had family there. It was amazing to score in front of them as well. I just saw Séamus (Coleman) pick it, he drove inside, he clipped it in at the back stick and it came on the half volley and I caught it nicely."

The goal could have been a vital winner but is instead a mere ingredient in a draw. So was last night a point gained or two points dropped? Hoolahan can see both sides.

"In the first half we had a lot of chances, we hit the crossbar, Jeff (Hendrick) had a great effort and Robbie (Brady) put a great ball in which John O'Shea was unlucky not to get on the end of," he says.

"Going 1-0 up, you think we have the three points but they created a lot of chances and put us on the back foot. But once they scored, we went again and we were unlucky not to go 2-1 up.


"Once we went 1-0 up, they pressed us a bit better, they got Zlatan on the ball a lot more and they had a good few chances but we were still unlucky to concede."

The phrase 'game management' will enter the frame now, Martin O'Neill needing to judge if and how he changes things and his team for Saturday's Belgian battle in Bordeaux but Hoolahan needs a start more than a rest, if Belgium are to be defeated.

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