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Man for the big stage Walters still vital for Ireland as he becomes top scorer of the O'Neill era

Tonight’s goal against Austria was his eight under the current management team and 14th in total for the Boys in Green.

Walters blasts home for Ireland.
Walters blasts home for Ireland.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

JON WALTERS IS a man for the big occasion.

Not for the first time, it was the Merseyside-born forward who dug Ireland out of a hole tonight with an-important equaliser against Austria at the death.

That goal, his 14th in a green shirt, makes him the top scorer during the Martin O’Neill era on eight — one ahead of James McClean and Robbie Keane.

Having missed a gilt-edged opportunity in the first half, Walters chased a long punt downfield on 85 minutes and shrugged off Aleksander Dragovic before rifling home. The 33-year-old was involved in a running battle with the Austrian defender all night and there was a hint of a foul on that occasion but the referee let it stand.

After a poor first half performance, the goal was just reward for Ireland’s efforts in the second 45 and the result leaves them on 12 points from six matches ahead of fixtures against Georgia and Serbia in September.

“We’re disappointed with how we started and we went one down but should have come out with the win [when you consider] the disallowed goal and the penalty,” Walters said afterwards.

The tempo that we played with in the second half is the way we want to play. We’re still in it and it’s in our own hands.”

Walters had a late penalty shout turned down and, at 1-1, Ireland appeared to score a second time but Shane Duffy was adjudged to have fouled Stefan Lainer on the goal-line by referee David Fernández Borbalan.

Walters sees it differently, however.

“They’ve got a hard enough job but, yeah, it’s one of those games where he [the referee] seemed to give a lot against us,” he said.

“Especially with the goal, the lad is 5ft 5in and we’ve got Duffy coming in. There’s only one winner and it’s not a foul in my eyes. It’s common sense that one.”

Shane Duffy scores a goal which was later disallowed Duffy and (behind) Walters jump with Lainer before the goal is disallowed. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Kevin Long was a surprise inclusion in the starting line-up and made his competitive debut for Ireland less than two weeks after earning his first cap. Walters has been impressed by the Cork native and hopes the expected exit of Michael Keane will give him a run in the Burnley team next season.

“I hadn’t seen much of Kevin before this,” he added. “I know he’s been at Burnley a few years and he hasn’t had a chance. All the news is Michael Keane will go and there’s a player ready to step up — I’m pretty sure about that.

“Let’s hope he plays some games because he’s certainly good enough and it’s good to see players given a chance. I thought he did very well.”

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Walters strikes late to earn Ireland a share of the spoils with Austria

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