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Stoke and Ireland midfielder Jon Walters says he is finally pain-free after two years of managing a chronic knee tendon problem.
The 32-year-old has enjoyed a wonderful season at international level, netting twice against Bosnia & Herzegovina in the Euro 2016 play-off second leg and winning Ireland’s Player of the Year award.
Walters’ club season has been rather more mixed, with manager Mark Hughes preferring Ibrahim Afellay in midfield in recent weeks.
Capital One Cup semi-finalists Stoke could face 12 matches in 38 days between St Stephen’s Day and early February, and Walters expects more game time in the coming months after finally declaring himself fully fit following two seasons of pain.
“For two years I couldn’t walk down the stairs,” he told the Sunday Times.
“During games I’d feel it, so I had to adapt my play. Two years of pain.
“If I’d taken four to eight weeks out I’d have probably got better, but I wasn’t having that. Sometimes you’re needed to play. And I was trying to get a contract, and you’re constantly trying to win your place in the team.
“I think it was Roy Keane who said in his book that foreign stars tended to be cleverer and didn’t play unless they were 100%, and sometimes you don’t do yourself favours: you play, injured, and the fans say, ‘He was crap today’.”
Walters will be a key player in Ireland’s Euro 2016 squad, where Martin O’Neill’s side will face Belgium, Italy and Sweden.
Walters, who joked ‘that’s three wins from three’, admits that Ireland face a tough test in France this summer, but says there is confidence in the camp after the win and the draw against world champions Germany in qualifying.
“It’s difficult but there’s no fear,” Walters said.
“We went to Germany and drew, then beat them 1-0. We came through the play-offs.
“We’ve shown we handle the games that might produce nervousness. We have energy and resilience and players who can hurt anyone. You’ve got to enjoy it. Are you going to get the chance again?”