Jonathan Walters sits out Republic of Ireland training ahead of Austria clash
REPUBLIC of Ireland boss Martin O’Neill is keeping his fingers crossed after Jonathan Walters sat out training just four days before the World Cup qualifier against Austria.
The 33-year-old Stoke striker was not involved in an open training session at the Aviva Stadium on Wednesday morning because of a knee problem picked up earlier in the week.
O’Neill will hope there is no lasting damage with Ipswich frontman David McGoldrick having already left the camp – also with a knee injury – to join Shane Long on the casualty list.
That has left him with only Walters, who scored in Sunday’s 3-1 friendly victory over Uruguay, and Newcastle’s Daryl Murphy as options to lead the line, although in-form winger James McClean has been used in that role in the recent past.
Walters has played much of his football for Ireland as an auxiliary wide midfielder, but missed the majority of his country’s Euro 2016 finals campaign with an Achilles problem.
The Republic are desperate to complete a double over the Austrians to cement their place as joint-leaders of Group D alongside Serbia, who entertain Wales later the same evening.
Leeds midfielder Eunan O’Kane said: “Everyone is aware of the importance of the game. If the other result goes well, it’s an opportunity to open up a gap between us and the teams that are facing us, so we’re firmly fixed on getting a good result.”
A draw would not be the worst result for Ireland, but O’Kane admits the words of assistant manager Roy Keane will be ringing in the players’ ears as they run out.
He said: “There’s a clip of Roy saying if anyone thinks we’re going out to play for a draw, they’re hugely mistaken. That’s the case. We want to go into the game to win.
“I don’t think there have been any of the games in this campaign, certainly in my time with the squad, where a draw has been the objective.
“We go to win every game we can and if we can get that win, it’s going to be pivotal in pushing us towards qualifying.”
There has been much talk in the run-up to the game of perceived unrest within the Austria camp with coach Marcel Koller having expressed his exasperation at the news that Red Bull Salzburg full-back Andreas Ulmer is unavailable because he is getting married at the weekend.
That and the loss of Walters’ club-mate Marko Arnautovic through suspension have not helped the situation, but O’Neill has warned his players not to be fooled by the noises coming out of Austria, and O’Kane (left) for one is not about to be taken in.
He said: “Sometimes when there’s unrest in the camp, it’s a relief to get on the pitch. I don’t think anything you read or hear can affect how we prepare for the game. If it is true, then they’re probably looking forward to the game and to getting on the pitch.
“It is what it is in terms of what to do with the unrest. I don’t think we can expect anything different on the pitch from what we saw when we last played them.”
O’Neill and his players would happily settle for a repeat of the result on that occasion, a 1-0 win for the Republic at the Ernst Happel Stadium in November, which would set them up perfectly for the resumption of hostilities in September, when they face a potentially tricky trip to Georgia.
O’Kane said: “It’s long time now from this one to the next one, so it’s vital that we pick up points. It’s a very important weekend in terms of the group.
“Obviously we don’t want to be going into the summer and pre-season having a bad result lingering over us.”