'I was putting the kids to bed and then messages started coming in on Twitter'

Over a decade later, Joe Gamble is no longer the last home-based player to have represented Ireland.

JOE GAMBLE IS hopeful that there won’t be an 11-year wait before another SSE Airtricity League player is recognised at senior international level by the Republic of Ireland.

In last night’s 2-0 defeat to France, Graham Burke became the first home-based player to be capped by Ireland since Gamble in 2007.

Graham Burke with Benjamin Pavard Ireland's Graham Burke tangles with Benjamin Pavard of France. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The Shamrock Rovers attacker, who has netted 10 times in the Premier Division this season, was introduced by manager Martin O’Neill as a 70th-minute substitute for Callum O’Dowda in the friendly at Stade de France.

Speaking to The42 this morning, Gamble — who’s now strength and conditioning coach at Limerick FC — said: “I was ecstatic to see it. Absolutely fantastic. He deserves it. I’ve seen him play quite a few times and you can see the touch of quality he has. He’s technically very gifted.

“It’s not just about being a good footballer either. You have to be up to it athletically — and he is. The thing with Graham is while he might not look that quick, he’ll beat fellas fairly easily because he has that acceleration you need over 10 yards. He kind of glides along the floor. He has a lot about him. I’ve been very impressed by him.”

Burke is now in his second season at Shamrock Rovers. The 24-year-old Dubliner returned home ahead of the 2017 season, having had spells with Aston Villa, Shrewsbury Town and Notts County during his time in England.

Gamble was alerted to Burke’s international debut last night when he received several messages regarding an oversight from RTÉ commentator George Hamilton, who mistakenly stated that Jason Byrne in 2006 was the last League of Ireland player to represent the Boys in Green — an error he later corrected.

During Steve Staunton’s tenure as manager, Gamble won two caps while at Cork City. In May 2007 he came off the bench at Giants Stadium in New Jersey to replace Andy Keogh in a 1-1 draw with Ecuador, before starting in a 1-1 draw with Bolivia in Foxborough three days later.

Joe Gamble Gamble in possession for Ireland against Ecuador. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

“I actually only watched the first half of the game last night,” Gamble says. “I was putting the kids to bed and then messages started coming in on Twitter about the commentary mentioning Jason Byrne, so there was a bit of slagging. I put up a tweet then to say he [George Hamilton] should have done his homework, which was obviously just a bit of fun.

“But look, it’s nice. It’s done and dusted now so I suppose this is the last time I’ll ever talk about it. It was a great honour for me but I’m just delighted now that players in the League of Ireland are getting the recognition. I really think they deserve it.”

Expressing his belief that Graham Burke’s involvement in this Ireland squad isn’t merely a token gesture, Gamble reckons there are other players currently in the League of Ireland who are also worthy of international recognition.

The 36-year-old former midfielder has been impressed by the likes of Cork City winger Kieran Sadlier and Shamrock Rovers left-back Trevor Clarke, who’s expected to be sidelined for the remainder of the season after suffering a knee injury in March.

Shane Supple is also in contention to be capped during this international window. The Bohemians goalkeeper, who was on the bench last night in Saint-Denis, will go back to his club for Friday’s game against Limerick before returning to the Irish camp ahead of Saturday evening’s friendly against USA at the Aviva Stadium.

“There’s no point bringing in fellas because you need extra numbers for training or because you want to keep the League of Ireland fraternity happy,” Gamble said. “If you’re being called up at international level then you deserve it.

PYbi1eIh Cork City's Kieran Sadlier and Trevor Clarke of Shamrock Rovers. Source: INPHO

“If you’re talking about the top few players in the league, [Graham Burke] would definitely be up there. I’m actually surprised that Kieran Sadlier hasn’t been called up. If you’re asking me, on his day I think he’s the best player in the league. He really has a great chance of kicking on and playing international football.

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“I’d mention the lad [Trevor] Clarke at Shamrock Rovers as well. Unfortunately he got a bad injury but he’s another fantastic player, the type of attacking full-back that we don’t have many of in this country. I think he could be in with a good shout when he’s back fit.”

While Gamble admits that it will be difficult for any player to maintain a regular place in Martin O’Neill’s squad while playing for a League of Ireland club, he believes international recognition for the likes of Burke highlights the value of the platform provided by the domestic game, as well as the quality of the players involved in it.

Having made several first-team appearances for Reading, Gamble returned to Cork City in 2004 and went on to win Premier Division, FAI Cup and Setanta Sports Cup medals. After spending 18 months with Hartlepool United, he enjoyed a spell at Limerick before finishing his career in Brunei.

“If we’re being honest, if a fella wants to be a regular at international level, he has to play beyond the League of Ireland,” said Gamble. “Our league is particularly good for younger players, whether they’re coming back from England and making sure they don’t lose their way, or if they stay here first and get a good education and some experience of first-team football. There’s a good mix of both in the league at the moment.

“It’s great to see the likes of Burke and Supple getting recognition. Hopefully others will get their chance now. If you look through the current Ireland squad, there’s a high number of guys who played in the League of Ireland before they went to England. That’s not a fluke. There’s clearly a merit to it.

Shane Supple and Graham Burke during the national anthems Shane Supple and Graham Burke standing for the national anthems at Stade de France. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“The league probably needs more finance, more investment, more backing and then that number would probably go up. There’s value to the league, we just need more people to grab it by the scruff of the neck and bring it on. But that’s obviously easier said than done.”

He added: “Sometimes people make snide remarks about the league and they don’t give it the credit it deserves, but there are some very good players in it. If we could just realise that a bit more and nurture it, we’d have a fantastic product on our hands.”

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