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'I'm going to have to adapt quick because the Championship is completely different to League of Ireland'

Graham Burke recently joined Preston from Shamrock Rovers.

Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

GRAHAM BURKE IS still only 24, but he has already had a remarkable roller-coaster of a career in football.

The attacker’s gifts were noticed at an early age, as he joined Aston Villa from Dublin schoolboy club Belvedere.

Yet the youngster ultimately could not make the grade with the then-Premier League club.

After spending a little over a season at League Two side Notts County, Burke returned home to his native country and linked up with Shamrock Rovers.

Even this time 12 months ago, an international call-up must have been far from his mind.

But after impressing in the League of Ireland, Martin O’Neill brought him into the Irish squad for the summer friendlies against France and the USA, making his debut versus the former and scoring against the latter.

This dreamlike scenario continued, as less than two weeks after the US game, it was announced that he had got his move back to English football, joining Preston on a three-year contract for an undisclosed fee. And he has made a decent start with the Lilywhites, featuring in four of their six league games so far, and scoring twice in all competitions.

As a result, Burke has made the cut for the Ireland squad again, and will be in contention to feature in Thursday’s Nations Cup clash with Wales, as well as next week’s friendly against Poland.

“I’ve settled in [to the Ireland squad] well,” he says. “Obviously coming in the last time [for the summer friendlies], I didn’t know much about it, but all the lads have made me feel welcome.

“Coming in from the League of Ireland, which I was then, was a big step up for me. I just tried to do as well as I could. I obviously didn’t really expect to play, but to play and score was brilliant for me, so I’m absolutely delighted to be back in now again.”

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Despite having the advantage of being fit from matches with Rovers ahead of Preston’s pre-season prepartions, Burke admits that adapting to life in his new surroundings has been no mean feat.

The step up has been big,” he explains. “I found it different to what I’d been used to. But for me, it’s adapting to it and taking it in my stride. I’m going to have to adapt quick, because the Championship is completely different to League of Ireland — so much more demanding and so much faster. You’ve got to be fitter. So I’m taking it all in my stride and it’s been brilliant for me so far, I hope it continues.”

Burke began very promisingly, registering a goal in his first start for Preston in a 3-1 League Cup win over Morecambe. Just a few days later, he was handed his first start in the Championship and scored again amid a 2-2 draw with Stoke. Since then though, things have slowed down a bit, with the Irish star brought off at half-time during last weekend’s 2-2 draw at home to Bolton.

“I started [at Preston] — first two starts, two goals. But obviously on Saturday, I was disappointed and didn’t perform as well as I wanted to. 

“But I’ll put that behind me, come in and try to do as well as I can — bring the confidence that I had from the start of the season here. And hopefully, it helps me to go on, try to play as well as I can and try to get into the team.”

Preston team-mate Sean Maguire is unavailable for Ireland duty due to injury, but along with Burke, two other members of Alex Neil’s side feature in the 26-man squad — midfielder Alan Browne and English-born attacker Callum Robinson, who has been called up officially for the first time, after receiving international clearance to play.

He can bring a lot to Ireland,” Burke says of Robinson. “He’s a winger, he’s tricky, he gets goals too and he’s been playing where I played. I played underage with him at Villa, so I know a lot about him. He’s a fantastic player.”

Like Robinson, Burke will be aiming to make an impact in these upcoming games with the hope of becoming a more regular fixture in future Ireland squads. With Maguire, Scott Hogan and Shane Long all injured, as well as Daryl Murphy recently retiring, it feels like a good chance to impress in attack for the inexperienced likes of himself, Robinson and Aiden O’Brien.

“Yeah, of course, it’s an opportunity for me. Obviously, with Shane not being here, there’s a place up for grabs. But you don’t know who’s going to play in the starting place. It’s up to me in training leading up to the games to try to do as well as I can and if I get the nod, hopefully I can take [my chance].” 

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Paul Fennessy

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