Despite how low key some FAI Cup fixtures can be, there was a buzz about Tallaght last Friday as Shamrock Rovers took on Finn Harps. The excitement was about Graham Burke's return to the Rovers starting line up after his loan move and the mouth watering chance to see Burke line out alongside Jack Byrne.
All the talk since the start of the season was that Rovers needed a goalscorer. Burke might not be a traditional number nine but he did finish top goalscorer for the Hoops in 2018 despite leaving the club in June for Preston North End. Before then he got 13 goals from his 22 league appearance last season.
While Burke didn’t supply a goal against Harps, his touch and quality of passing – 46 passes with an accuracy of 93% - showed why he will be such as asset for Rovers and made people question just why he was back in the League of Ireland so quickly.
extratime.ie got the chance to talk to the player after Friday’s game with Burke explaining just how happy he was to be home – home in Dublin with his family and home in Tallaght with his football family.
After making the move to Preston, coming a few weeks after making his Ireland debut in the Stade de France and scoring against the USA in the Aviva, things started well. He got two goals and grabbed an assist in his opening three games for North End.
“I scored two goals and I was thinking I can fit right in here,” said Burke. “Slowly and gradually it faded away.”
Not playing regular football and being away from friends and family took its toll admitted Burke. “There is a lot to be said (to being home). I don’t think people realise it until they are in that situation when everything is taken away from you.
“It is just you and your girlfriend away and when you come home it is like what are we going to do – you go to the pictures and you go for something to eat and you do that most days.
“You are kind of twiddling your thumbs, going ‘what we are going to do today?’ There are only so many boxsets you can do until you are looking at the four walls bored out of your skull!”
With game time limited in Preston, Burke dropped down a division to Gillingham where between February and the end the League One season he made dozen appearances scoring one goal.
“I went on loan and I didn’t really enjoy it as much. The decision then in the summer break was ‘do I want to go back to League One or League Two?’ I didn’t think it really fitted the way I play. I was thinking ‘what do I do?’
Burke had begun his professional career on the books with Aston Villa before spending time with Shrewsbury Town and Notts County. Having played in League Two in 2017, Stephen Bradley brought him Tallaght where he got back playing regularly and more importantly back enjoying his football again.
“I feel like I am properly embedded in this club. I never enjoyed my football as much elsewhere compared with here. I have everything to thank Shamrock Rovers for and Stephen Bradley. Everything that I’ve achieved over the past year, it is due to myself but everyone has a part in that. All the coaching staff have played a part.
“When Rovers were in for me again, and I had other options, I didn’t think anything else would have suited me more than being back here and playing my football here with this group.”
Some may question the desire for Burke to play at as high a level as he can in the game but he is very happy to be home and playing with the Hoops. “It was a brave decision coming back. People would have made the decision to stay in the UK. Pride might come in the way.
“I made the decision for myself and I do what’s in my best interest and what makes me happy. I’m the sort of player where everything has to fit into place. I have to be happy. I had that when I was here the last time (with Rovers) and going off that and how it went (in England), I wanted to go back to that.
“I’ve been home two weeks and nearly every day I’m doing something. I’m off playing golf or meeting people for coffee and being with friends. There is a lot to be said for it, not just for football but everything else around you fits into place. You can go and express yourself more.”
Stephen Bradley deployed Burke in the number nine role against Harps on Friday and speaking to extratime.ie after the game the Hoops Head Coach admitted that it is “a great headache to have when you have players of that quality and we have to get them in the team.
“He is still in pre-season and it was about him getting his lungs and legs again. He got 70 odd minutes into him which was good. As the weeks go, he will get better, fitter and stronger.”
Burke himself acknowledged that for him the game against Harps “was a tough run out. I’m probably miles off the lads. They are in full swing whereas I’m coming off pre-season where I didn’t probably play a lot of minutes.
“There is loads of talent in that dressing room around the middle of the park. It is a headache for Stephen and he decided to play me up front today. He kept shouting at me ‘stay high, stay high’!
“My intentions are to drop deep and get on the ball but tonight I had to sacrifice that and stay a little bit higher where I mightn’t get as many touches but had to try and score. I had a great chance but I helped it on its way wide. With sharpness and more minutes them things will come.”
You can listen back to the interviews with both Graham Burke and Stephen Bradley on this week’s extratime.ie sportscast:
PODCAST EP 156-Stephen Bradley, Ian Morris, Keith Long, Graham Burke & Mark McIntosh— Extratime.ie (@ExtratimeNews) August 12, 2019
Web Player - https://t.co/aJvukEURO9
TuneIn - https://t.co/BVPdRQPgmy
iTunes - https://t.co/5iLEczQT1Z
Spotify - https://t.co/7liQWidSDW
Alexa- ask AnyPod to play Extra Time Sportscast pic.twitter.com/XWaFcfxVki