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O'Neill is praying Walters will win his fitness battle

 

By Damian Spellman

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 yesterday morning because of a knee problem.

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 win over Uruguay, and Newcastle's Daryl Murphy as options to lead the line, although in-form James McClean has been used in that role before.

Walters has played much of his football for the Republic as an auxiliary wide midfielder, but missed the majority of the 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, 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 for a draw, they're hugely mistaken. That's the case. We want to go into the game to win.

"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.

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, and O'Kane for one is not about to be taken in.

He said: "I don't think anything you read or hear can affect how we prepare for the game. I don't think we can expect anything different on the pitch from when we last played them."

O'Neill and his players would settle for a repeat of the result on that occasion, a 1-0 win for the Republic in November, which would set them up perfectly for the resumption of hostilities in September, when they face a potentially tricky trip to Georgia.

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