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Dublin: 5°C Monday 17 May 2021

'I can’t really put it into words... it’s an unbelievable achievement that will stay with me forever'

Ireland’s Graham Burke reflects on an unforgettable night which saw him break a 40-year-old record.

Image: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

SHAMROCK ROVERS STAR Graham Burke was lost for words as he marked his first international start with a goal that he will never forget.

Alan Judge scored Ireland’s late winner in a 2-1 victory against the United States but it was Hoops hero Burke who equalised before the hour mark — the first international goal by a League of Ireland player in 40 years.

After coming off the bench to make his debut in Paris on Monday night, the Dubliner went one better at the Aviva Stadium on the night when John O’Shea made his final appearance in the green shirt.

“It’s been a brilliant night for me,” the 24-year-old said.

“To start a senior game for the Republic of Ireland is an unbelievable achievement for me. To top it off with a goal, I can’t really put it into words what it means to me, but it’s an unbelievable achievement that will stay with me forever.”

With Shane Long ruled out through injury, Burke was widely expected to come into the starting XI against the US, a move that seemed even more likely when he sat out Rovers’ league clash with Dundalk on Friday.

But Martin O’Neill kept his cards close to his chest, and the forward did not know he was starting until an hour before kick-off.

O’Neill’s faith paid off, and when the opportunity presented itself in the 57th minute, Burke pounced, getting the final touch on Darragh Lenihan’s goal-bound effort.

“I try to be a goalscorer and my instincts are to get in there and just put it in the back of the net. Darragh’s probably not happy and he has a right to be, but as a striker I’m never going to give up that opportunity to put the ball in the back of the net.

“I don’t feel guilty at all because I’m a goalscorer. That’s my job, to create things and score. I’ll never feel guilty for that. Obviously, Darragh will probably have the hump with me but as a goalscorer, I had to put it in.”

Burke’s opportunistic finish makes him the first League of Ireland player to score for Ireland since another Hoops man, Ray Treacy, struck a brace against Turkey in 1978.

And while it seems inevitable that the former Aston Villa man will turn heads across the water during the summer transfer window, he’s happy to keep pushing himself to set higher and higher standards for what home-based players can achieve.

“My main focus is Shamrock Rovers,” he said. “I have no other focus, so I’ll back there on Monday and put my head down, working hard the way I have been. I’m not thinking about anything outside that.

“It hasn’t really sunk in but it’s a massive achievement that I’ve come from the League of Ireland, and to go out and play in front of that crowd and to score a goal, it just shows that if you put your head down and work hard, Martin will pick you and you can go out and achieve these sort of things.

“I’m just trying to set the standard for myself to play as well as I can. I have high standards for myself and I want to meet them. I just want to go out and perform, relax, play my game, and try to do the best I can for Shamrock Rovers.

“If lads in the league put their head down, they can get these achievements and I probably won’t be the last lad to end up doing it because someone always ends up coming along.

“For me, I will cherish this and it will live with me forever. It’s a proud moment for me and my family. There’s about 50 of them out there.”

– Additional reporting by Ben Blake

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