Walters believes Hughes best man for tricky Ireland job

Jon Walters reckons Stoke City manager Mark Hughes can bring the best out of Stephen Ireland.

International exile Ireland has joined Stoke on a season-long loan from Aston Villa in a move which many regard as the Cobh man’s last chance to fulfil his promise in England’s top-flight.

“The manager knew him at Manchester City and the best years he’s played have been with Mark Hughes there,” says Walters.

“So Mark has had faith in him to bring him here on a season-long loan. Richard Dunne knows him to be a top player as well.

“There’s good competition for places which should benefit everyone.”

While it would be hard to imagine a stylist such as Ireland thriving under former Stoke boss Tony Pulis, the new regime at the Britannia Stadium has ushered in an altogether more expansive style of play.

“It’s been well-documented by all the players that we’ve changed the style from day one,” says Walters.

“Everyone’s enjoying training and the matches have been good quality. But then it’s only enjoyable if you’re winning. We’re not getting beaten, and we’ve got the first points on the board so we can relax a little bit.

“We have to keep it going but the style helps. Every player enjoys passing the ball. As long as the points are coming, it’s brilliant. For the front men, there’s a bit more time. It’s not like the ball is coming up and down constantly. We’ve more time to make the runs and get on the ball, so it’s easier for us. It’s not just one-dimensional and scrapping for the ball all the time.”

The changes at Stoke have also seen Walters’ fellow Irish international Marc Wilson move from defence into midfield for his club.

“He’s a midfield player anyway — he was when he came here first — even though he played centre-half at Portsmouth,” Walters observes.

“In certain circumstances, he’s moved to right-back or left-back but he’s gone back into midfield this year. And he’s done well. He’s flying now. He took a knock at the weekend but he should be okay for the World Cup qualifiers.”

Speaking of which, Walters regards the games against Sweden and Austria as a litmus test for an Ireland team which he believes is also undergoing a process of evolution.

“We’ve tried a few different formations and we have been passing the ball around,” he says. “These two games are going to be massive in terms of how we play and how we deal with the other team and put our mark on the game. They are going to be interesting games and I think they’ll define where we are going to end up in the group.”

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