Jon Walters admits Ireland ‘didn’t lay a glove’ on Georgia
Striker is confident he will be fit for crucial World Cup qualifier against Serbia
Republic of Ireland’s Jonathan Walters after Georgia midfielder Valeri Qazaishvili scores their first goal. Photograph: David Mdzinarishvili/Reuters
When Héctor Cúper managed Georgia, the story goes, the Argentine started to bring the locally-based players in for weekly squad sessions before concluding it was too late to teach them anything.
The sessions, it seems, fell by the wayside but the players, to judge by the weekend, appear to have come on rather nicely since he moved on eight years ago.
Their draw on Saturday is not their best result against a higher-ranked side by any means and even in this campaign the point in Cardiff trumps it, but it is hard to imagine that they have ever dominated a decent side for an hour in quite the way they did Ireland at the Boris Paichadze stadium.
Afterwards, the Irish players conceded they had been second best but, as players do, sought emphasise those few positives they find in the situation then shift the focus to Tuesday when a win over Serbia would catapult Martin O’Neill’s side up to top spot in this tightly fought qualification group.
“Look, it’s tough, letting them have possession,” said Jon Walters as he made his way towards the Irish team bus. “I’m playing right of midfield and ended up playing right back most of the game. It was similar for James McClean. We didn’t lay a glove on them, as such, but if we can keep possession a bit better we’ll be a lot better.”
Few would take issue with the 32 year-old on that score but fewer still can figure how a composed performance in which Ireland control a game against a side like Georgia continues to prove so elusive for Ireland.
Happily for O’Neill’s men, the task of knocking the group’s current leaders out of their stride seems somehow to suit them better. Walters believes they can do it and so, within 72 hours, consign both the weekend’s performance and result, to history.
“This result has gone but if we win our last three games we’re there so it’s a huge game on Tuesday [against Serbia] and if we get the three points . . . You can be as negative as you want – we didn’t get the result we want – but the cold fact is if we win on Tuesday we’re top of the group so we’ve got to win.
“It’s just the way qualifying is,” he said of the fact that the players must pick themselves up and turn things around so quickly. “They’re in the same boat as us. They’ve to travel the same distance as us now, so it’s a very difficult game but hopefully we can be sitting here on Tuesday night [with the points] and tonight is all forgotten about.”
After getting through all 90 minutes without any immediate problems, Walters is confident that he will be fit for the Serbia game. The Burnley player is still struggling slightly with blisters but, he says, he doesn’t anticipate there being an issue in terms of his availability for the game in the Aviva.
Stephen Ward admits the team will have to be better all over the pitch if that game is to be won but, like club-mate, he prefers to look forward, rather than back.
“We didn’t play great,” he admits, “especially in the first half but it was tough out there, the conditions, and they kept the ball really well. In the second half we improved, we had three big chances to win the game and it was unfortunate one didn’t go in; although it would have been harsh on them.
“We wanted to win the game but if we weren’t going to win, we couldn’t afford to lose it. So we move on to Tuesday. We need to improve everywhere but the manager said after the game that we have been in this situation before; we need to dust ourselves down and put in a much better performance on Tuesday.
“It’s still in our hands,” he added. “We have to keep the head.”