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'Championship teams don't get to play in these European nights. To have my family there watching is massive'

Former Aston Villa and Notts County playmaker Graham Burke is experiencing European football for the very first time with Shamrock Rovers.

Graham Burke scored the winner in Shamrock Rovers' Europa League win against Stjarnan last week.
Graham Burke scored the winner in Shamrock Rovers' Europa League win against Stjarnan last week.
Image: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

SHAMROCK ROVERS ARE showing no signs of slowing down.

After an away win in their Europa League first round qualifier against Stjarnan two weeks ago, manager Stephen Bradley challenged his players not to simply play for a 0-0 draw but to win the second leg outright in front of their own supporters.

They did so comfortably, despite the 1-0 scoreline last Thursday, dominating a sheepish Stjarnan who only came into the game when it was too late.

With two wins in Europe so far this campaign, the €215,000 that comes with it and two clean sheets for good measure, Rovers want to continue their upward curve of form and see just how far their quest in Europe can take them.

Bowing out of the Europa League at the first hurdle last season, Rovers welcome Czech side Mladá Boleslav to Tallaght Stadium aiming to make it through to the third round for the first time since 2012 when they made it all the way to the group stages under Michael O’Neill.

Midfielder Graham Burke scored the winner after just 20 minutes seven days ago. A fine run by Brandon Miele was followed by an over-hit cross aimed at the back post. With the ball teetering out of play, Trevor Clarke whipped a low cross back across goal where Burke was lying in wait to prod home.

“Brandon did very well to get down the left-hand side and he put a great ball into the box”, the 23-year-old explains.

“Trevor did very well to keep the ball in play, he played it in and lucky enough for me I didn’t have to do too much. I was just in the right spot at the right time and just tapped it in.

“Scoring a goal is a great feeling but you can’t dwell on it because we’ve another massive game coming up on Thursday. After the game it’s just about putting that goal out of your mind and concentrating on the next game.”

Graham Burke "We feel that we can beat anybody who comes here on the night." Shamrock Rovers have lost only one game at home this season. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

After a mixed start which featured two red cards after 18 games, Burke seems to be settling into life at Rovers.

It is apt that in both games where he received a sending off the player also scored – against Dundalk on the opening night of the season and again against St Pat’s  five weeks ago.

Rovers themselves struggled considerably with discipline throughout the first half of the season, racking up six red cards and 49 yellows after 18 games.

Five yellow cards in their five competitive games since the mid-season break shows an ability to get the issue under control.

Burke, who has scored five league goals this season, admits that his performances are thanks to the freedom that Bradley has afforded him in the final third.

“The gaffer has shown so much confidence in me to play in a position where I feel most comfortable and can get on the ball. To help out and score goals this season has been great.”

Unbeaten in Tallaght Stadium since 17 March, Burke says Rovers have nothing to fear against Boleslav tonight.

Graham Burke Burke has scored five goals in the Premier Division this season. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“If you go through all of our fixtures this season I don’t think we’ve been beaten at home in 11 games”, he notes.

“We’ve been watching videos over the last few days and know that they are a big physical team. They’ve got some good players that can play football, but I think that the most important thing for us is to concentrate on us and what we do on the day.”

Burke returned to Ireland following seven years in England, leaving Dublin as a 17-year-old. He joined Aston Villa in 2010 and made his debut in a 3-0 League Cup victory against Tranmere two years later.

Loan spells at Shrewsbury Town and Notts County were followed by a permanent move to Meadow Lane before coming home at the start of 2017. Burke had never played European football before Rovers’ first leg against Stjarnan and says the opportunity to play on nights like these is one of the advantages of life in the League of Ireland.

“It’s completely different football. The difference is massive but it doesn’t get any bigger these big nights and playing in European football.

“The teams in the Championship and in League One and League Two don’t get the opportunity to play in these European nights and to have my family there watching is massive for me.”

He says Rovers have been bolstered by the constant support at home and away this campaign. 250 supporters have already booked flights to Prague for next week’s second leg, with players and fans alike mingling on their successful expedition to Iceland a fortnight ago.

Soccer - Pre-Season Friendly - Wycombe Wanderers v Aston Villa - Adams Park Graham Burke at Aston Villa in 2013: "Teams in the Championship and in League One and League Two don't get the opportunity to play in these European nights." Source: EMPICS Sport

“The fans that traveled to Iceland were singing loud. They were on the same plane as us and to see them all there makes us want to put on a performance for them.

“In Iceland Stjarnan didn’t have many fans over there. I think the number of fans we brought over was the same as they had at home. You could hear our fans chanting and singing and to have that away from home is only going to be a benefit to the team.

“To get a goal in the first round away from home and to keep a clean and bring it back to Tallaght was massive. But now it’s the opposite way around where we have the first leg at home.

“We know we have to keep a clean sheet and not give them an away goal. I think if we do get a couple of goals and keep that clean sheet it’s a great start for us.

“Coming through the first round confidence is quite high. The mood in the camp and with the boys in training is very good.

“After going through the first round all you can be is confident going into the second round. Everyone is looking forward to it.

“We feel that we can beat anybody who comes here on the night. I think if we do that tomorrow and if we go out and perform we’ll be capable of winning the game.”

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Aaron Gallagher

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