Martin O’Neill hails Jon Walters, fumes at referee

Ireland boss Martin O'Neill during the game. Picture: David Maher

Martin O’Neill lavished praise on the match-saving intervention of Jon Walters but could barely hide his disdain for the performance of referee David Fernandez Gonzalez.

The Stoke man salvaged a point with a wonderful strike before Shane Duffy was denied a goal that would have made an improbable comeback complete, as an out of sorts Ireland belatedly came good to share a 1-1 draw with Austria at the Aviva.

“Jon Walters epitomised the strength of character we possess in the side,” said the manager. 

“We lack a few other things but heart is not one of them. Jon showed immense character. In the first 15 or 20 minutes, without meaning to, we left him isolated.

“We were not giving the best service to him. And so the ball keeps coming back. Jon is not the quickest but he has a real knowledge of the game and he’s got a really great will which he showed in the Euro qualifiers when he was our talisman.

“Walters is totally invaluable to us. And his performance, particularly in the second-half, was just tremendous.”

O’Neill passionately contended Duffy’s disallowed goal, denied for a foul on Stefan Lainer as they challenged for an aerial ball almost under the Austrian crossbar, was entirely legitimate. 

“When the referee first pointed, I thought the goal had been given,” he said. 

“The linesman’s half way up the pitch, closer to me than he is to the goal – although once or twice I was up close to him!

“Listen, you can’t change it now. But the goal should have counted. It’s a big call. It’s not as if you get one point today and there’s seven for another match. There’s three points for each game. 

"We were fantastic in the second-half in terms of energy, pride and determination and we get a legitimate goal chalked off. So the ref has not been great.”

Asked if he thought Duffy had been guilty of leading with his arm, the Derryman reached into his long football memory for a response delivered with a dollop of gallows humour.

“There might have been a player called Andy Gray who wouldn’t have scored a goal (if they’d been disallowed for what Duffy did). He’d have his all his 400 goals taken off him!

“Funnily enough, the Jon Walters incident was also a penalty. He was caught and even though it was an accidental thing, in this day and age you see them given in the Premier League all the time. And their goal… for what it’s worth, you still have to defend the corner kick but there was a handball further down the field before that.”

While James McClean went much further than O’Neill and may even get himself in hot water for suggesting the referee had been Austria’s “12th man”, the manager was also prepared to concede – not that he had much alternative - he could hardly point the finger at the ref for Ireland’s abject failure to hit the ground running at the Aviva..

“We had a very poor opening 15 minutes, no real pressure on Austria, allowed them to get into the game and almost take the crowd out of the scenario and we couldn’t really create anything in the game,” he conceded.

“I was a bit surprised by that because we’d talked in the build-up about trying to be on the front foot early in the game. We had too many who didn’t play well for long periods in the first-half. And then we conceded the goal.

“In fact, I was kind of thankful we were only a goal behind at the break. I knew at half-time we’d left so many things behind. And there was a determination in the dressing room to address it. 

"And, backed by a vociferous crowd, I thought in the second-half we had loads of pressure, although there’s always a possibility of Austria scoring at the other end when you have so many attacking players on. But that’s the risk you take.

“So I was delighted we got the equaliser and, as I’ve said, I thought we had a legitimate goal disallowed.”

After all the talk of war in the Irish camp in the run-up to the match, Austrian boss Marcel Koller certainly had a rather shell-shocked look about him as he reflected on the events of the evening.

“It was an intense and physical game,” he said. 

“In the first-half we played well and scored but in the second- half Ireland put us under pressure. Ireland were playing at home but I think they are happy with the draw, because it keeps us at a distance. But there are still 12 points to play for.”


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