From Daryl Murphy a while back, then more recently Robbie Keane and now Jon Walters, we seem to have devoted so much space to reporting on one specific part of the legs of Irish footballers bound for France that perhaps it’s time we began referring to them collectively as ‘a herd’ of calf injuries.
At Ireland’s Fota Island base yesterday, there was the troubling sight of Walters leaving the training pitch without having taken any part in the morning session, and making the long, slow walk in the sunshine to the on-site gym in the company of a physio. Confirmation duly emerged the Stoke City man had received a kick to the calf in the previous day’s session but there was also immediate word the damage was no more than “minor” and that his missing training was purely precautionary.
Still, he’s now another key player on whom updates from Martin O’Neill will be awaited with hope but also some concern over the coming days.
More encouraging yesterday was lively evidence that James McCarthy is continuing to make progress with his hamstring problem, as the midfielder finally joined in with the rest of the group at the start of training, after spending a number of days working on his own.
As for Robbie Keane, his problematic calf did not permit him to train but he was to be seen out pucking a hurling ball back and forth with kitman Dick Redmond and, later, the skipper was able to give a cautiously optimistic appraisal of his readiness for the Euros – if not for the first game against Sweden on June 13, then for the subsequent matches.
“It’s never nice when you get injured, but certainly (not) at this stage because of the European Championships,” said Keane. “But, luckily for me, it’s not as bad as I first thought. I thought it was going to be a lot longer. They are saying a couple of weeks, which would obviously get me [fit] for the Sweden game, or maybe if I miss that one, I’ll be ready for the second game. So it’s bad news, but it could have been a lot worse.”
More generally, the veteran indicated he was very pleased with how Ireland’s off the pitch build-up to the tournament has been going.
“It’s been brilliant. We are very, very lucky here, with the lads that we have and the spirit that we have in the group, which has always been the same since I have been involved with the Irish team.
“The banter with the lads - when you are away from your family and you are with the team for a long period of time, sometimes it can be frustrating, it can get boring if players are not playing.
“But one thing I would say about this group is we have some team spirit that keeps the lads together, and I think that will stand us in good stead going forward.
“There seems a great togetherness between everybody, not just the players, but the coaching staff, the backroom staff, everybody. People underestimate that. Certainly from the outside, they think it’s about the players and they only see the players who are on the field and the players who are on the bench. But it’s way bigger than that: it’s about everybody that’s involved because everybody keeps everybody together and we’re very, very lucky with that.”
Keane also had words of praise for the huge Irish support which will be present in France.
“I have said it before and I’ll keep saying it until I am blue in the face, but no competition is the same if we don’t have the Irish fans there,” he told FAI TV.
“We’ve seen it over the years. We’ve seen it in 2002, the last European Championships was the same. I think we have got two hundred and something thousand people that applied for tickets – that’s incredible.
“For a small nation like ourselves, the support that we get no matter where we go, it’s a reflection of how good this nation is and a reflection of how good the support is for the players.
“When I was a kid growing up – ‘88, ‘90, ‘94 – it was the same thing. It hasn’t changed and it’s full credit to the Irish fans because it’s not easy for fans to get up and go away for a few weeks with the recession a few years ago. It’s tough times for people to get the money and to travel, it’s expensive. So to do that – I am telling you right now – the lads are very, very grateful for that.”
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