Walters happy to keep defying the odds

WHEN he steps out onto the Wembley pitch for this afternoon’s FA Cup final, Jon Walters will struggle to take in the scale of his achievement.

His has been a remarkable journey. Few players in recent times can have taken a more circuitous road to the top of football than the Republic of Ireland international.

In his darkest moments, the Stoke striker must have feared he’d never make the grade.

As a teenager he failed to break into the Blackburn team. When he left Ewood Park he found more frustration. A three-year spell at Bolton between 2001 and 2004 brought a paltry four appearances for the Trotters and included loan spells at Hull, Crewe and Barnsley. In 2004, he signed for Hull but the move did little for his career prospects.

A loan spell at Scunthorpe followed before he joined Wrexham for a year and then Chester City.

Ipswich in 2007 was a step up the ladder and brought much-needed stability for Walters. He quickly emerged as a key player for the Tractor Boys and was named captain in 2009. His spell at Portman Road came to an end in 2010 with a move to Stoke.

The 27-year-old was at last in the big time.

And how he has grasped his chance. Walters is the club’s joint top scorer along with Kenwyne Jones and how he would love to add to that tally in this afternoon’s decider with Manchester City.

Wembley has become a happy hunting ground for him. having scored twice in Stoke’s stunning 5-0 win over Bolton in the semi-final.

“I consider myself very fortunate to be where I am now because there are not too many players who drop down the leagues and manage to work their way back up,’’ he reflects.

“It has taken a lot of hard work and a bit of luck as well.

“There are times when I have to pinch myself, but it was the prospect of enjoying moments like this that motivated me on what has been a long, long journey.

“The important thing has been adapting to every step back up and every challenge that I’ve faced over the past 10 years.

“When you have been in a situation where the chance appears to have come and gone, as it appeared to have done for me after Blackburn and Bolton, then you are most appreciative of a second opportunity.

“Things have gone incredibly well for me over the last few weeks, probably far better than I could ever have imagined, but I want to make the most of this opportunity, so the hard work doesn’t stop here.”

Walters struck his 12th goal of an impressive debut season in the 3-1 victory over Arsenal on Sunday and his partnership with fellow striker Jones has flourished in recent games as Stoke have caught form in spectacular fashion.

“We’ve been creating lots of chances and threatening to score goals all season, but it seems that since the quarter-final win over West Ham, things have really clicked for us,” Walters says.

“It doesn’t get much better than the semi-final win over Bolton because we managed to produce such a good performance for the big occasion and to top it all, I managed to get a couple of goals to make it extra special.’’

It’s hard to imagine Manchester City imploding in similar fashion to Bolton but Walters feels the memory and the confidence derived from that semi-final can inspire Stoke.

“We know it’s going to be incredibly tough, but we have the confidence and belief.

“We want to experience that feeling again and it will be a big help to us that we have such good memories of the semi-final triumph.

“It’s hard to imagine us being able to improve upon that performance, but we probably need to do that to beat Manchester City. Their players are all internationals who are used to the big stage, so we need to be at our best.

“Without a shadow of doubt though, it would mean everything if we could win the cup. We will give it our best shot. We’re the underdogs, but that’s a situation which suits us.’’

And as Walters’ career has shown, underdogs do sometimes win.

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