BROWNE ON THE BALL: Cream can rise to the top, but it takes hard work too

David Norris.
David Norris.

On Monday night Jon Walters became the hero of the Emerald Isle as he slotted home a penalty kick and and a near-post volley to book the Republic of Ireland’s place in next year’s European Championships.

It was a triumphant night, one for the 32-year-old Stoke City forward to remember.

Especially as things haven’t always been quite as glamorous for the striker.

Walters is one of those footballers forced to fight their way up to to game’s highest levels.

Indeed, in his early 20s - following an unsuccessful spell with Bolton Wanderers - he found himself at the other end of the Football League, one of Boston United’s League Two rivals, facing the Pilgrims with both Wrexham and Chester (he found the net in his last appearance against Boston, a 3-1 victory for a Chester side which also included Roberto Martinez and Ryan Semple).

But hard work and perseverance have seen him fight his way to an international tournament where the likes of Jamie Vardy, Joe Hart and John Ruddy - all former opponents of the Pilgrims - could also be appearing.

These fairytale rises - which have also included the likes of United’s old tormentors Rickie Lambert and Grant Holt - seem to always strike a nerve with football fans.

Possibly because it gives the average person in the street hope that you should never give up on a dream, that cream will eventually rise to the top and hard work and the right attitude pays off.

But while United have spent their recent history looking to get the better of these future stars of the game, very few York Street youngsters have made the step-up themselves.

Davids Norris and Noble spring to mind as the two who have moved on to have extremely enviable careers in the game, while regular football with Scunthorpe may well see Tom Hopper rise through the ranks again.

But this progression hasn’t really been the case with the Pilgrims over the years.

Indeed, they’ve had their ex-Premier League players - Paul Gascoigne, Neil Thompson, Julian Joachim, Noel Whelan, Daryl Sutch et al - but they were all on their way down the pyramid, as opposed to up.

But perhaps all that could be about to change.

Surviving in the Football League, without any real hopes of doing anything but treading water, means you need those experienced heads.

But Dennis Greene’s philosophy is evidently different.

In order to win promotion, he believes, you need hunger.

You need young players with talent, but also that desire to win, to prove themselves and to drag themselves up that ladder by any means possible - whether that’s catching a scout’s eye or doing it collectively through league titles or play-offs.

For the past two seasons we’ve started to see players in United shirts who have bright futures rather than eyebrow-raising CVs.

Are there players in this current crop who will have promising careers as professionals? Undoubtedly.

Are there any in the team good enough to reach the top levels? Only time and a lot of hard work will tell us that answer.