Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 December 2014

Republic have no excuses over surface, says Walters

There's little chance of Jon Walters making excuses about the pitch if Ireland come up short on Kazakhstan’s artificial surface today.

The astroturf venue has emerged as a talking point in the build-up to the game, but the Stoke forward, who is set to start alongside Robbie Keane, doesn't want to get weighed down in that discussion.

He points out that significant advances have been made in technology to bring non-grass surfaces up to the required standard. And, ultimately, the differences are minimal if it meets FIFA regulations.

“It's different, but it's not your bog-standard astroturf with sand on top like you tend to get with five-a-side pitches,” he said.

“It's near enough like a pitch we played on in Switzerland last year with Stoke, in a Europa League qualifier. We were thinking bad things before the game but it was really good.

“The roll of the ball was a bit different, it was moving slow, but other than that it was pretty good.

“There's a little bit of a difficult bounce but it's not like you were going back 20 years to the plastic pitches then. Robbie Keane and Darren O'Dea are playing on artificial pitches more in America and Aiden McGeady in Russia, too. It might give Kazakhstan an advantage, but you've got to deal with it.”

Walters is enjoying the competition in the striking department, with Shane Long, Kevin Doyle and Andy Keogh set to be in reserve tomorrow, while Simon Cox is filling in on the wing.

“It's good to have that because we'll have certain parts of the campaign when everyone is not going to be fit,” he said. “So it's good to have that many options and you can mix up formations too. We can do a lot of things.”

That could be optimistic talk, given Giovanni Trapattoni's adherence to his favoured system. Like his Stoke pal Glenn Whelan, Walters feels that Ireland have the personnel to change.

“I think we can, with the players we've got in the squad,” he contended. “There's three of us from Stoke, James McCarthy from Wigan who plays completely different, the Sunderland lads, and Seamus Coleman from Everton, who all play in different formations.

“If the manager did want to change it, he's got players that are quite adaptable and playing in a lot of formations.”

Darren O'Dea turned down big-money offers from eastern Europe because he was convinced a move to Canada would kickstart his international career. He didn’t make it off the bench during the Republic's dismal Euro 2012 campaign. Freed by Celtic, after loan spells at Leeds, Ipswich and Reading during a highly-frustrating seven-year spell, the 25-year-old is now with Toronto FC who invited him over to watch one of their games and said: “I felt the buzz, I felt really excited. That was when I knew I wanted to play there.”

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