Burke earns surprise call to O’Neill’s squad

by Dave Donnelly

There were four new names in the provisional Republic of Ireland squad to face Celtic, France and the United States later this month – the most striking of which was Graham Burke.

The Shamrock Rovers frontman had been namechecked by Martin O’Neill – along with Cork City’s Kieran Sadlier – as a player with the potential to play at senior international level.

O’Neill and his assistant Roy Keane had watched Burke score a stunning third-minute goal as the Hoops beat the reigning champions 3-0 in Tallaght earlier this month.

Few expected Burke to be included when O’Neill unveiled his squad in Navan last week, however, as former St Patrick’s Athletic goalkeeper Conor O’Malley also received his maiden call-up.

Burke, from Sean McDermott Street in the north inner city, has been in flying form for Rovers since making the move back to Dublin from Notts County last July.

The former Aston Villa trainee celebrated the good news with another goal – his tenth of the season – as the Hoops fought back to earn a draw against high-flying Waterford on Friday night.

“It’s a great achievement and fully-deserved,” Burke’s manager at Shamrock Rovers, Stephen Bradley, told the Dublin Gazette.

“I think he has been the best player in the league this year so far. He’s added goals to his game, and if you’re a player who can create and score, you’re a dangerous player – that’s what he is right now.

“He’s maturing every week and he’ll only get better. This call-up is fantastic for him.”

One potential complication for Burke is the fact the League of Ireland, unlike the bigger leagues abroad, doesn’t take a break when international fixtures are scheduled.

With several senior players likely to either be involved in play-off action in England or given some extra time to recover, Burke’s best chance to feature would be Sunday’s meeting with Celtic.

The game in Glasgow, arranged as a testimonial for long-serving Celtic captain Scott Brown, could see a number of debuts handed out.

One of those could be Burke’s former Villa teammate Callum Robinson, who recently declared for Ireland through grandparentage and has been in good goalscoring form for Preston North End.

However Rovers have a game scheduled on Saturday night, away to Sligo, which Burke would be expected to start in as an ever-present in Bradley’s side.

The FAI won’t allow a league fixture to be postponed unless at least two players are affected by international or under-21 call-ups, so there’s no scope to postpone the game.

Bradley stressed that O’Neill has encouraged Burke to play a part in the Sligo game, while he himself is eager to see the Dubliner join up with the international squad.

“He’ll be fine. I had a good conversation with Martin and we’ll have another one during the week. It was excellent.

“I obviously told Martin I want him to go and be around that Ireland set-up. Martin wants him to play for us so it was a very easy conversation.”

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