Jon Walters overcomes health scare to vie for Ireland spot against Portugal
Stoke attacker eager to impress Martin O’Neill after frustrating end to season
Jon Walters in Jersey City yesterday: “I like to come in and get involved as much as possible.” Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho.
When Jon Walters reviews his last few months of football and travel, he can at least console himself with the fact that they have been interesting. Nobody has made greater efforts to be at the Met life stadium this evening than the Stoke forward as he tries to make his case before Martin O’Neill sits down to think of a first-choice team for next autumn’s European qualifying campaign.
The constant rotation has made it difficult for anyone to figure out O’Neill’s thoughts and the players are guessing as much as anyone.
“Yeah it looks that way,” Walters said. “Some players have their positions – Shane and Robbie. But I think everywhere else, there are still chances to show the manager what you can do. I’m pretty sure he’ll have an idea. He’s trying out different things, different positions and trying out different combinations of players to see what works . . . A lot of players have played under Martin and Roy and they know the players pretty much inside out.”
Meningitis scareNobody would have quibbled if Walters had decided to cry off this trip. He had been on a family holiday in Dubai last week when he began to experience terrible headaches and eye pain. By the time the family returned to England, his condition was deteriorating.
“I was struggling to drive home from the airport. I got a good night’s sleep but the next morning I woke up the same: just really, really bad headaches. My eyes were really sore and I couldn’t look up at the light. I was struggling all day and went to hospital that night and they just put me straight through.”
It was an unnerving 24 hours: tests, straight on to a drip and a course of antibiotics in case he had contracted meningitis. Even more critically, his daughter began to show the same symptoms, complaining about headache and throwing up all night.
“They had to take it as a worst-case scenario but all the blood tests came back clean.”
It passed. Nobody could really explain what had caused the illness. “It must have been a bug. They just don’t know.”
He felt a bit washed out afterwards but already had a flight booked to join up with the Irish team and wanted to close what has been a turbulent season on a positive note.
Walter’s league was interrupted when he was given a three-match ban for a tackle against Alexander Tettey at Carrow Road that was interpreted as violent conduct. Walters had equalised for Stoke just five minutes before the challenge.
“I took a bad touch off my chest and it bounced. We’ve both gone for it and he’s literally just nicked it before me. Yeah it was harsh. Like as if I headbutted him – I got sent off for violent conduct. That’s what I got marked down for. I think the scream got me sent off. I went in to see the referee after and he just said he has to put it down as violent conduct.”
Form interruptedThe fact that Stoke had by then tapped into a rich vein of form highlighted for him just how quickly a player can become stuck in the wings.
It was great to see Stoke getting result after result but as he served his suspension, the team adapted and Walters found himself victim of the oldest cliche in sport: you don’t change a winning team.
After he returned, he played just 25 minutes in four weeks. In the penultimate game of the season, he came on against Fulham and scored. He started on the final day as Stoke completed a top 10 finish.
“We hit our targets and have to push on now.”
But the unpredictable nature of those weeks sharpened his focus on his international ambitions. He joined up with the Irish squad on Friday and completed the warm-up in the game against Costa Rica that evening and hopes to make an appearance tonight.
Like everyone, he is trying to figure out where and how he might fit in O’Neill’s plans and to try and convince the manager that he can be used out wide or in a central role.
“Aiden [McGeady] and James [McClean] have been playing quite a lot and he knows them well. I’m not a winger who will do two step overs and beat three men and whip one in like other lads. I like to come in and get involved as much as possible. Especially at home, it definitely looks like we’ll be using wingers more. It might be different away from home. I’m happy to play anywhere.”