Friday 20 April 2018

'We're not a top team but we have heart' - Walters

Ireland striker Jonathan Walters. Photo: Sportsfile
Ireland striker Jonathan Walters. Photo: Sportsfile

Lose, and the World Cup dream is over.

Not just for this Irish team, but for a batch of players in their 30s who will never get a chance again to play on the world stage.

The pressure is on, so. Big pressure. But Jon Walters, one of those players who knows that Russia 2018 is his last chance to play in a World Cup finals, says the current crop of boys in green can cope with the burden on them as the Republic prepare to face Serbia in Dublin this evening.

"As a player you relish the biggest occasions. That's why you're here to play football. That's why you do it. As a young kid growing up, they're the moments you want to be in," said Walters, having passed the 50-cap mark with his appearance in Tbilisi last weekend.

"You ask any player, they want to play on the highest stage possible. Sometimes it seems to suit us that our back is against the wall.

John O’Shea shows his skills in training at Abbotstown yesterday. Photo: Sportsfile
John O’Shea shows his skills in training at Abbotstown yesterday. Photo: Sportsfile

"Serbia at home, two points behind them, it certainly is. If we come out fighting like we have done in previous games, we've got a great chance," says the Burnley forward.

The player ratings across the media since Saturday's poor showing in Georgia would have made unpleasant reading for those on the field, but there are also questions about the management team who prepared a side which went out looking so unprepared.

Yet Walters feels the burden should fall on the players, not those in the dugout, as Ireland try to rescue this World Cup campaign which looked so promising in November, after that win in Vienna, but now looks grim.

"We're all responsible out there. There's only so much the staff and the manager can do off the pitch," says Walters.

"It's down to us on the pitch. We've got to recognise certain situations on the pitch, and deal with them.

"We didn't do so well in the first half against Georgia, but it can happen in games where we've dominated possession and battered teams without creating the chances we did the other night.

"Against Austria, all the second half we were at them, but we didn't have many clear cut chances, and we did that the other night. Sometimes that's just how games go. As players on the pitch, everyone has to take responsibility."

Walters feels there is still room in this group for Ireland to recover.

"We're all disappointed with the Georgia result. When we sat here after the last couple of games we said it's never going to be plain sailing in the group. We're not one of the top teams in Europe like Spain, Italy, Germany, France," he added.

"We're not going to run away with the group. We're always going to be competitive and be in there. It's a disappointing result but it's always going to be the same mentality in every game, to get the three points and win the game.

"We can draw on past results we've had at the Aviva and hopefully go full throttle and go for it. The supporters have been first class since I've been here, especially at home if we can get on the front foot.

"We've seen the atmospheres we can create as players. It's hard playing in games sometimes where you give up possession, and sometimes it's hard to watch. But if we can get on the front foot, make teams make mistakes, press them high, that suits us probably a bit better."

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