Jon Walters heaps praise on James McClean following brace against Moldova
JON WALTERS has heaped praise on Republic of Ireland’s two-goal hero James McClean - and had a playful dig at the Derry man’s expense following last Sunday’s World Cup qualifier win over Moldova.
McClean bagged two second-half goals in Chisinau to seal a crucial three points in Group D, with Shane Long also getting on the score-sheet in the Republic’s 3-1 victory. Walters joked that McClean has said some “stupid” things in the press - but added the West Brom winger epitomised the ego-free nature of the current Irish squad.
“He's a good lad, James! He can be a bit stupid with what he says in the press down the years, but he's learning,” smiled Walters.
“He's a good lad and we haven't a bad lad in the group. No egos about anyone. Everyone gets on and James is a good lad and we'll keep him under wraps.”
McClean brought his international goal haul to seven in 46 appearances, many of which have been as a substitute, but Walters insisted his team-mate needed to brush up on his free-kick routine after floating one effort harmlessly into Moldova’s home supporters.
“He scored two goals and hopefully he gets a few more between now and the end of the group,” said the Stoke City man.
“He works his socks off on the left - sometimes, on the right. It's not an easy position and it's unforgiving when you have to chase back a lot. But he got the plaudits against Moldova and hopefully he can work on his free kicks and get a couple more."
Walters revealed there were another few choice words spoken in the changing room at half-time in Chisinau, just as there were last Thursday night as the side struggled to overcome Georgia.
The robust nature of the half-time debate, Walters insisted, showed how unified the group is as they stay in contention for a place at the 2018 World Cup finals after three games unbeaten.
“We can say things to each other and it won't get taken to heart,” he said.
“It's in the game and it's forgotten about. We have characters and we're not afraid to say things to each other and it's a great trait to have. It was pretty fiery in there again, some choice words at half-time as there were the other night, but you take it on the chin and we came out much better in the second-half, so it worked.”
While the Republic have been criticised for their two performances against the weaker sides in Group D - Georgia and Moldova - Walters feels the qualities, particularly Georgia’s, have been overlooked.
“The likes of Moldova and Georgia aren’t easy games. They have a way of playing. You can compare it to a cup game, where you're playing a lower league team," he added.
“They have a game plan and they work on it very hard and they execute it. The first-half against Moldova, we should have seen the half out with the ball in the corner [in the build up to their goal].
“If we made the right decisions in the final-third, we could have been two or three up going into the break, but the second-half was much better. In the end, it's about getting the points, it's not about performance. It's about getting the result and we've done that this week, but there's a long road to go.”
With a trip to Austria next month, Walters added: “It's never plain sailing, we're not a team like Germany, Brazil, Spain or Italy, where we're favourites for every game - we have to fight for every point.
“It's going to be a difficult campaign and the next game coming up is going to be huge in November. It's back to our clubs for a few weeks in between and I'm sure Austria will be smarting from their result in Serbia [losing 3-2] and will want three points against us.”