Jon Walters: The most underrated man in football
What a hero.
There was a moment shortly after Shane Long's thunderbolt had restored the sort of noise to Dublin that used to petrify all of the big boys, Cyrus Christie went marching down the right hand side.
Ireland were penned in at that stage, they were hanging on and it was all hands to the pump trying to close out the world champions. So Christie found a tunnel of space but, naturally, he also found that he was isolated inside the German half.
Jon Walters wouldn't leave him alone.
The Irish striker-come-winger-come-defensive midfielder trudged forward, lungs busted, legs hanging off him having already put in a warrior-like shift for the country. His mind, his heart kept him moving. He dragged himself to the right flank once more and somehow went on the overlap for no other reason but to create space. For no other reason but to not leave a team mate hanging out to dry. He even pointed back out the field to the space his efforts had created. "Get it away from me, I'm f*cked."
Christie still played him the ball though and Walters was harassed by a couple of white jerseys manically sounding out possession as they tried to salvage themselves from a humbling defeat. But they couldn't get near it. One steel-like arm extended immovably to hold a German at bay as if Scrappy Doo was firing fruitless punches at midair beneath. The other defender couldn't see around Walters' uncompromising back. A back that dented bodies of the world champions all evening, one that flung itself recklessly off anything that moved around him and a back that carried the load of three men on one of the most famous nights in Irish football.
Walters held onto the ball and he eventually slid it coolly out of danger to Hoolahan who carried the threat through the centre.
The move broke down. All of Jon's thankless work came to nothing, his run to lift the siege rendered pointless and Ireland were shifted onto the back foot again anyway. You looked down at Walters standing advanced on the right, huffing and puffing. He just dragged himself back. He had no other option.
What the hell was his position on Thursday night against Germany?
It seemed that, whenever Ireland had the ball, the onus was on the Stoke man to be our main source of attack and make the thing stick in the forward line. It also seemed that, whenever Ireland didn't have the ball, it was Jon Walters' job to go and get it back. Wherever he had to.
When we have the ball, get the f*ck forward. When we don't have the ball, get the f*ck back.
The work Walters went through at the Aviva was breathtaking. No, literally it was breathtaking - you couldn't watch his relentless runs all over every corner of that pitch without puffing or panting yourself.
He would've even put a modern day GAA corner forward to shame the way he was striding up and down the field as necessary. Eating up the yards as if all that mattered in his world was hounding out the ball, in defence or attack. All that mattered was that he was there. Everywhere.
If the Germans were waking up sore this morning, it's probably because every single one of them left Dublin with a Jon Walters-shape hole in their torsos.
The Irish number 14 strode from corner to corner hammering his body off all that even dared to move in white. He pushed the entire backline away from the half way line himself as he led from the front with all the class you'd not only expect, but need, from one of our few Premier League starters. But he lifted the crowd more so with the spirit in which he flung himself relentlessly around defensive positions with all the heart and balls that the crest on his jersey merited.
It was an action man performance from the country's most consistent player, particularly in the last two months when Martin O'Neill and Ireland really needed it. They needed leaders.
But Jon Walters is so much more than the horse and cart, ramrod qualities that make him so valuable and so endearing to the fans of the underdog.
He can play ball.
He holds it up better than anyone around. He can play on the wing and do it properly. How many times, particularly when a German storm was blowing straight in our faces, was Walters the one who was controlling the ball under pressure in the opposition half to relieve the pressure?
His head was a magnet, his brain was limitless.
He found green jerseys time and time again and he linked up with Long expertly in the last 15 minutes as the pair kept the ball and kept it in good areas.
He strikes with conviction. He plays off of our best ball-player Wes Hoolahan - because he too is a baller. He, too, is experienced. And, wherever he's asked to play, up top, on the flank or just everywhere like he was against Germany, he is equally as effective.
Why on earth Stoke were ever going to let him go in the summer, God only knows. He has already made a mug of that decision since the transfer window luckily closed on Mark Hughes before he could move on.
His run against Gibraltar opened the whole thing up in September at a time of near depression for Irish football - only three games ago. He got the only goal in one of our most important games in a long time at home to Georgia and he got it through nothing else but sheer desire and a refusal to be second. Against Germany? He was unreal.
He was everywhere. He was taking control of the ball all over and, yes, he was bullying the world champions too because he could. Because he was Irish. And because this was our patch.
Just before the goal, he stood side-by-side with Manuel Neuer and waited for a ball to drop down from the sky. Neuer positioned himself to catch it. Walters just barged him out of the way and overheaded one wide. It was a foul, the ref gave it, but the crowd loved it. Jon Walters was showing no respect to the Germans. He was showing no fear of them either. And the crowd followed him.
The roar followed him.
On a famous night for Irish football - a crucial night when the country was revived - the Landsdowne roar was resurrected and the Aviva came of age. The new stadium finally found its voice and it was led there by men like Jon Walters.
The next morning, the island woke up on a high - the sort of which that only football could give them. Liverpool had a new manager, the rugby is ready for a huge weekend but all anyone wanted to talk about was Jon Walters holding that ball in that corner for what seemed like nearly nine and a half minutes and when he staved off 13 Germans all at once.
All they want to talk about is the 7-foot tall Jon Walters who shoots fireballs from his eyes and bolts of lightning from his arse.
All they want to talk about is the sure myth that one night in Dublin will soon pass into. And they want to praise the legend who charged from the front and led the army fearlessly into the breach.
Jon Walters: The most underrated man in football.
The most appreciated man in Ireland.
*This article was first published on October 9, 2015