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'Warrior' Walters set to lead the line for Ireland after declaring himself fighting fit

The Stoke City man is raring to go ahead of tomorrow’s World Cup qualifier against Austria.

Walters celebrating his goal against Uruguay.
Walters celebrating his goal against Uruguay.
Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

JON WALTERS WILL lead the Irish line after declaring himself fully fit for tomorrow’s World Cup qualifier against Austria.

The Stoke City forward, who captained the side and scored a stunning goal in last Sunday’s friendly against Uruguay, emerged as an injury worry after missing training earlier in the week as a precaution.

However, the 33-year-old looks a cert to wear the skipper’s armband again at the Aviva Stadium in the absence of Seamus Coleman.

With Shane Long also missing, the versatile Walters could start as the main striker — although Martin O’Neill will stick with tradition by not unveiling his team until just before kick-off.

“I’m feeling fine,” Walters said during the pre-match press conference today. “I trained the last few days and I’m raring to go for tomorrow.”

It’s a welcome boost for Martin O’Neill, who confirmed that he has a clean bill of health from the 24 players currently in camp. Walters stood out as a key player in the successful Euro 2016 qualifying campaign, but he was far from 100% when the finals came around 12 months ago.

“Jon was our talisman in the European qualifications,” explained O’Neill. “Unfortunately, he picked up an injury just before the competition started. He played little bits here and there but overall wasn’t properly fit.

“It’s nice to have him on board. He has been terrific since I’ve come in and even before that. He’s a great warrior for us but, more than that, he’s got ability and he’s helped us immensely in the last couple of years.”

Callum O'Dowda, Daryl Horgan, Glenn Whelan, Robbie Brady, Jonathan Walters and John O'Shea Walters and his team-mates during training. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Austria are significantly-weakened by a host of absent players — none more important than Walters’ Stoke City team-mate Marko Arnautovic.

The team’s top scorer in qualifying is suspended, which can only be good news for Ireland.

“He’s been a little bit inconsistent this year but when he’s on it he’s a really difficult player to play against,” Walters said of Arnautovic. “He’s a big miss for them but they’ve got a very strong team and sometimes it’s the players that are sitting in the background who are unknown that can be dangerous.

“We saw ourselves against Wales when we were depleted in numbers but we gave a good performance. Marko is a big miss though because he can create something out of nothing.”

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Ben Blake

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