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'He has nice ability' - O'Neill urges League of Ireland's top scorer to grab chance after first call-up

Graham Burke of Shamrock Rovers has been included in the provisional squad for three upcoming friendly matches.

Burke has been in flying form for the Hoops this season.
Burke has been in flying form for the Hoops this season.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

GRAHAM BURKE IS having an eye-catching season at Shamrock Rovers, and the talented attacker has done enough to earn his first senior international call-up this afternoon.

The 24-year-old, top scorer in the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division right now with nine goals, hit a thunderbolt in the recent victory over champions Cork City.

Martin O’Neill was sitting in the stands at Tallaght Stadium that evening, and while he admits that wasn’t the only factor in his decision, it certainly did Burke’s cause no harm.

“I did see the goal just as it left his foot, but I don’t think it was necessarily just for that… although it was a fantastic goal,” O’Neill said at the SPAR FAI Primary School 5s. “It was his overall play, and I think he did really fine in the game. It’s nice to go and see the players live for yourself, and it gives you an indication of their ability when you see it rather than seeing snippets. In that way it’s good, and it’s nice to have him in the squad.”

He has nice ability,” he added. “Sometimes when you’re looking at a game and someone is standing out in a particular match, then in your mind you think ‘Is he capable of doing that?’, let’s say for instance in the Premier League.

“He has come back from Villa, that might be for a number of reasons. It might be homesickness, maybe he didn’t get the proper break — I really don’t know. It looks like he’s showing that ability again, and who knows what might happen in the future.

“I think ‘Why not?’. I have, during my time, put some players into the squad that have made a peripheral squad and then dropped out. If he gets the chance, then go take it. That would be my advice to him on the field of play here in this match. Go and play your game.”

Martin O’Neill O'Neill speaking at the SPAR FAI Primary School 5s Programme at Navan's MDL Grounds today. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Burke is due to be involved in the Premier Division meeting away to Sligo Rovers on 19 May, the day before Ireland’s meeting with Celtic for Scott Brown’s testimonial in Scotland. The Hoops are then at home to St Patrick’s Athletic the following Tuesday, 22 May.

If he does get the chance to make his debut for Ireland at Celtic Park, O’Neill has advised the former Aston Villa youth player to grab it with both hands.

It’s a step up,” he went on. “I think players playing in the Championship, never mind anything else, find it difficult to play football — particularly in qualification games either in the Euros or the World Cup.

“He should try and embrace it. In my early days at Nottingham Forest, going into international matches I found those really difficult. The year that Forest won the championship, we were flying and playing in European football for the next couple of years.

“I can’t say the international matches became easy, but they came easier to me in that sense. I was a bit more mature and a bit older, so I was able to deal with it. So if I can cast my mind back to those, and think what these young lads might be going through now, I feel it’s something that they should take, really embrace and go for it.”

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