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Wednesday 22 August 2018

Walters sets sights on starring at the Euros in Dublin

READY: Jon Walters (right) limbers up during training. Photo: SPORTSFILE
READY: Jon Walters (right) limbers up during training. Photo: SPORTSFILE

He's the old hand looking for one more run-out on the big stage of international football.

And Jon Walters believes that his own hunger to have a shot at glory with Ireland is matched by the younger members of Martin O'Neill's squad.

Walters will turn 35 midway through the qualifying process later this year for the new UEFA Nations League. He had a difficult time at club level this season, battling with injury and then a lack of game time when he was fit, playing only a tiny role in Burnley's success of qualifying for Europe.

Walters isn't sure if he will be with the Clarets next season. The forward is willing to drop down a division in the search for first-team football, should Burnley be willing to let him go before his contract runs out in 2019.

But he will be part of the Ireland scene for the time ahead, having played in last week's testimonial in Scotland and is in the frame to play in both friendlies, away to France tonight and at home to the USA next Saturday.

A return to France revives memories of Euro 2016, and that tournament has raised Walters' spirits as he plans ahead.

"I'm very lucky to be in football and very lucky to play. It's unbelievable to have been there and to think the lads grew," he says of Ireland's showing in France two years ago.

"Robbie [Brady], Jeff [Hendrick], James [McCarthy], Seamus [Coleman], big Shane Duffy, [Darren] Randolph in goal.

"The lads grew as a team and it was great to see. They had a taste for it and hopefully they can do it again. Obviously it's devastating to miss out on the World Cup but they are hungry now to qualify for the Euros again."

What made staying on with Ireland, when retirement could have been an option, more attractive for Walters was the prospect of playing two games at the Euro 2020 finals in Dublin.

A lot will happen between now and then, and Walters knows he needs to get his club situation sorted out and soon, but home advantage at the finals is a draw.

"I think I've got to take these games, get them out of the way, see what happens with my own future at club level. You don't want to think too far ahead but how good would it be for us all to qualify," he says.

"Two games at home guaranteed, that would be great, wouldn't it? It would be great for the young lads coming through as well, that taste.

"No-one has had a home tournament and having two games at home would almost be like a home tournament. It would be unbelievable. We'll see."

One reason why it was important for Walters to stick around is the basic fact of where he plays, as Irish options up front are very limited and he's likely to be one of only two Irish strikers in the Premier League next season, presuming he stays with Burnley.

"I've still got a lot to offer so I wanted to play as much as I can. With players coming through, we haven't got a lot of options at the minute. We're short of numbers this week," he says.

"Scott [Hogan] is obviously missing and Sean [Maguire] has got an injury. All it takes is for something like that to happen and we're very short.

"I know I've got a role to play and some of that is to help players integrate and develop.

You want to play, you want to play every minute of every game and I'm no different.

"If I'm playing, it's up to those players to take the shirt off me and that can only help everyone.

"That sort of competition is healthy and we all support each other, whoever is playing here," he added.

Walters is ready for talks with Burnley boss Sean Dyche but he assumes he's not in the manager's plans

"If I wanted to move on, I wouldn't see that as an issue," he added.

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