Walters back fit and fired up

Football reporters are used to being told that so and so was “on fire” in training but it’s rare enough that we get to hear about an equivalent inflammable ankle.

And Jon Walters certainly didn’t mean it as a compliment when he reported that “my ankle was on fire for 30 minutes” after the incident at Gannon Park on Tuesday when an accidental collision with Shane Long looked, for a while, like it might have caused the Stoke City man a serious problem.

“To be fair, he caught me on the side of my nerve,” said Walters. “I’ve had bad ankle injuries before and the pain was worse than the lot, but I’m fine. I came across him, I was trying to block him so it wasn’t his fault. Shane’s a good lad and he thought he’d hurt me but half an hour later back at the hotel I was fine.”

Confirmation of his well-being came with Walters taking a full part in yesterday’s training in Malahide before the squad flew out to Stockholm. But, for the second day running, the morning session also suggested that the striker will be confined to the bench, at least at the start, in the Friends Arena tomorrow night.

“The bits of shape we’re doing, yeah,” he conceded.

“There will always be disappointed lads, but the manager’s got a team to pick. He has a few hard decisions to make and that’s his job. We do a bit before you [the media] arrive at training and you know the team you’re working with during the week. But we have a couple of days’ training yet. There’s today and the day of the game, so there could be problems and you have to be ready, no matter what.”

Especially since, as he knows well himself, Trapattoni invariably changes his strike-force during a game.

“That’s always the case in any team,” he observed, “whether it be a striker to hold the ball up or a striker to try and win a game, it’s generally a striker who comes on.”

Speaking of strikers who are match-winners, who can hold the ball up and, basically, who can do just about everything — what does Jon make of Zlatan?

“He’s an exceptional player, but I think the team always beats the individual. But Sweden have a good team as well. They’ve had some really good results, they battered England off the park, didn’t they? Ibrahimovic was on fire and it will be difficult to keep him quiet, but we’ve got good players as well and hopefully we can cause them problems. We have got to focus on the team, not one player.”

Walters, no shrinking violet himself, said he reckons Ireland can expect a good old physical battle with the Swedes.

“That’s generally the type of people they are, hard weather people, like [Jonas] Olsson from West Brom, who always puts himself about. We were laughing about it after the game on Saturday [when Stoke and West Brom drew 0-0]. We were at each other all game. But you smile after it.”

And say, ‘see you again Friday’? “Yeah, that was it.”


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