Having scored the goals that revived Republic of Ireland’s dwindling Euro 2016 qualification campaign, Jonathan Walters will be desperate to continue his fine form for his country over the past 12 months until this summer’s finals tournament.
A late bloomer at international level having been handed his debut at the age of 27, the versatile forward has been making up for lost time in recent years having now fully established himself as a regular for the Boys in Green.
The now 32-year-old spent three years with Bolton Wanderers in the early-noughties, having joined the club from Blackburn Rovers, before enjoying permanent stints in the lower leagues with Hull City, Wrexham and Chester City.
But it was his performances for Ipswich Town and Stoke City that earned him both a return to the Premier League and an eventual international debut against Norway in November 2010.
Having established himself as a potent attacking threat from midfield for the Tractor Boys, he maintained that form in the top-flight with the Potters, helping them reach the FA Cup Final in his first season at the club before competing in the Europa League the following year.
Impressing enough to be handed his first competitive international start in Ireland’s Euro 2012 play-off first leg against Estonia, Walters marked the occasion with his maiden international goal as the Boys in Green clinched a convincing 4-0 victory, going on to progress to the finals in Poland and Ukraine courtesy of a 5-1 aggregate win.
Drawn in a group with Croatia, eventual runners-up Italy and eventual winners Spain, Ireland were always up against it to qualify for the knock-out stages as Walters came on as a substitute in all three group matches.
An opening 3-1 defeat against Croatia left Ireland needing to avoid defeat against then World Cup winners Spain to stay in the competition.
However, the Irish fell behind to an early Fernando Torres goal, prompting Walters’ introduction to the action at half-time.
The forward was unable to spark a revival though, as further goals from David Silva, Torres and Cesc Fabregas saw Ireland exit at the group-stages with a whimper.
Italy inflicted a third defeat on the Irish in their final group game to compile further misery on Giovanni Trapattoni’s men, leaving them to catch an early flight home without a point and having scored just one goal.
Handed a more prominent role following the tournament, Walters scored three times in 2014 World Cup qualification as Ireland failed to qualify for the tournament in Brazil, costing Trapattoni his job in the process.
Initially featuring sporadically under new head coach Martin O’Neill, the forward captained his country for the first time in a heavy friendly defeat to Portugal in June 2014.
Going on to cement his place as one of Ireland’s key players during Euro 2016 qualification, he featured in nine of the Boys in Green’s ten qualifiers, completing the full 90 minutes on each occasion.
Sitting fourth in their group midway through qualification, a Walters-inspired Ireland came back to defy the odds and qualify for the play-offs, beating world champions Germany along the way, with the forward on the scoresheet against Scotland, Georgia and Poland.
With Bosnia and Herzegovina standing in between O’Neill’s side and a place at the finals tournament, Ireland scored a vital away goal to clinch a 1-1 draw without the suspended forward in the first leg.
Returning for the second leg in Dublin, Walters opened the scoring with a first half penalty before securing Ireland’s place in France with his second of the night to clinch a 2-0 victory and 3-1 aggregate win.
Crowned Ireland’s Senior International Player of the Year for 2015 as a result, a potentially season-ending injury had threatened his chances of featuring at Euro 2016 as the forward missed both of the Boys in Green’s friendlies during the March international break.
However, Walters was named in Martin O’Neill’s squad for the finals after recovering to feature in Stoke City’s final three games of the Premier League season.
Appearing in the Irish's warm-up clash with the Netherlands, the forward start the Boys in Green's opening game as they drew 1-1 with Sweden, only for his injury problems to re-emerge once more.
Absent for Ireland's 3-0 defeat at the hands of Belgium, he also missed their famous late victory over Italy as Robbie Brady's header clinched a 1-0 win and Martin O'Neill's side's place in the knockout stages, prompting euphoric celebrations.
Now facing host nation France in the round-of-16, Walters will be desperate to return and play his part as Ireland look to secure another unlikely victory.