Jon Walters hoping hard work pays at Burnley

A new season and fresh venture looms for Jon Walters but the same desire endures as he contemplates a campaign which could culminate in Russia at the World Cup.

The striker proved his worth to Ireland’s cause just last month by volleying in an equaliser against Austria to pinch a precious point and Burnley boss Sean Dyche has since shelled out €2.5m to sign him from Stoke City.

It seems he’s been around for an age but the 33-year-old only made his Premier League debut seven years ago, a prelude to an international career that will reach the 50-cap mark in September against Georgia.

Mark Hughes, whom he toiled for at Stoke in the final four and half years at the club, had gradually marginalised the veteran who started just 13 Premier League games last term.

Not just for the purposes of retaining his place in the Ireland team with Russia in sight, Walters knew his time at the Potters was up and lapped up the chance of joining the Irish legion at the Clarets.

“It got to the point by November that I’d played more games for Ireland than for Stoke,” reflected the scouser at Carton House yesterday ahead of tonight’s friendly against Shamrock Rovers.

“Circumstances change and things happen, whether your face just fits at the club or not, but the move was on once the manager brought in another striker, Saido Berahino, in January.

“Thankfully, Ireland manager Martin O’Neill had the belief to keep playing me, although I was flagging towards the end of the internationals, fitness-wise.

“The move had probably been coming for a couple of years and it would have been the same again this season had I stayed. You have to take that decision to move on.

“Hopefully, I get to start a lot more games at Burnley, maybe even over 30.

“There have been no assurances given about a spot in the team, that’s up to me to earn and I’m joining a squad that is super-fit.”

Being surrounded by familiar faces from the Ireland set-up — Stephen Ward, Robbie Brady, Jeff Hendrick, and Kevin Long — is an added bonus.

“It definitely makes it a lot easier settling in,” he said. “Everyone talks about their clubs when we’re on international duty, such as what the training is like, so it gave me an idea of what to expect.

“Robbie (Brady) is up there with the best players I’ve played alongside, providing me plenty of assists like the one recently against Austria, and Jeff has slotted in behind me up front for Ireland. Wardy’s been around the Ireland camp for years and Kevin did well after coming in for the first time in the last games.”

Walters will have spent a decade in the top flight should his latest contract be honoured and Burnley avoid the drop.

When scrapping around in the lower leagues for Chester City and Wrexham, far from his mind was that type of standing and the international honours which have accompanied it.

Still, the willpower to succeed has been an ever-present trait. “It’s been some journey in the past few years with more ups than downs,” he explained. “I don’t pinpoint any certain turning point, just relying on hard work.

“There is so much that goes on apart from games, whether it be the extra training or working through the summer breaks I did.

“I think the harder you work, the more luck you get. A lot of players down the years have been unlucky through injuries while a lot of good players haven’t looked after themselves and just said they were unlucky.

“I think you need luck in certain ways, particularly avoiding career-threatening injuries, but I think a lot is down to mental toughness.

“There’s a lot of players in the lower leagues that have unbelievable technical ability who were released from the top academies.

“At my first club, Blackburn Rovers, we had three of the best players in English football at our academy. They were part of this England ‘planning group’ which meant they were considered the best in the country. Two years later, their careers in football were finished.

“I’ll always be hungry, wanting to improve and looking for the next bit of an edge. I’ll be like that after I finish playing.”

Ireland fans will be glad he’s still got a World Cup ambition to realise before it comes to that juncture.


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