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What are Ireland's alternative options if Jon Walters isn't deemed fit to start against Sweden?

The current Player of the Year is touch-and-go to be ready for Monday’s Euro 2016 Group E encounter.

Walters trained separately on Thursday.
Walters trained separately on Thursday.
Image: PA Wire/Press Association Images

QUESTIONS OVER THE fitness of Jon Walters are providing a major selection headache for Martin O’Neill heading into his first major tournament as an international manager.

Tendonitis in both Achilles has prevented the influential forward from training with the team for the past ten days. The 32-year-old did do some work with the FAI’s head of fitness Dan Horan in Versailles on Thursday but he was given a recovery day along with the rest of the squad yesterday.

With Monday’s Euro 2016 meeting with Sweden in Paris fast-approaching, the Ireland boss faces a nervy 48 hours as he awaits further updates from team doctor Alan Byrne and the medical staff.

Considering how pivotal a player Walters has become at international level in recent years, his absence would be a significant blow going into the first round of fixtures in Group E.

One of the country’s best-loved sports stars, Walters played in all but two of the qualifiers and scored five goals in his final six matches.

After missing the first leg of the play-off with Bosnia-Herzegovina due to suspension, the forward returned for the second leg in Dublin and booked Ireland’s place at the finals with two goals.

Ireland Bosnia Euro Soccer Walters celebrates scoring against the Bosnians at the Aviva Stadium. Source: Peter Morrison

But it’s not just goals that Walters brings. Whether playing as a striker or doing a shift on the right side of midfield, he offers energy in abundance and a physical presence that defenders often struggle to contain.

His heroic performances in a green shirt were recognised in March when he was named the FAI Senior Player of the Year for the first time.

Monday’s game with Sweden appears to offer Ireland the most realistic chance of claiming victory at the tournament and O’Neill will be eager to have his strongest starting XI on the pitch.

However, risking a partially-fit player when he’s not right could aggravate the injury and potentially rule him out of the following games or, even worse, the entire tournament.

If the Ireland boss decides to name Walters on the bench or leave him out completely with the Belgium game coming up on Saturday week, it would open the door for someone else to claim a starting berth.

Here’s how they could line out without him:

4-2-3-1

Walters has often operated on the right side of midfielder under O’Neill, and to great effect. If the Ireland manager wants to line out in his favoured formation of a five-man midfield with Wes Hoolahan supporting lone striker Shane Long, it could mean Jeff Hendrick gets the nod in his place.

The Derby County man was poor in the 2-1 defeat to Belarus and had played little or no football since March prior to that game, but he proved vital at key moments in the qualifying campaign and can slot in anywhere across the midfield. Stephen Quinn and Aiden McGeady are also options.

startingeleven (1)

 4-4-2 (diamond)

Alternatively, O’Neill could look to 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield and two strikers leading the line — as he did away to Poland and in the win over Germany. Walters may have played alongside Shane Long in such a system, but Daryl Murphy would be favourite to feature in his absence.

There is a possibility that Robbie Brady could be pushed forward into midfield with Stephen Ward occupying the full-back position, while Glenn Whelan has bags of experience at the base of the diamond. Hendrick, Quinn and Meyler would also be capable of filling into that midfield.

startingeleven (2)

How do you think Ireland will line out if Walters doesn’t recover in time? 

Listen to The42′s Ben Blake on the 98FM Euro 2016 Daily podcast throughout the tournament 

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About the author:

Ben Blake

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