IT IS APPROACHING the five-year anniversary of Graham Burke’s senior debut for the Republic of Ireland.
The Shamrock Rovers forward came off the bench against France during a thunderstorm in Paris, playing the last 20 minutes against the side that would go on to win the World Cup that summer.
A few days later Martin O’Neill started him alongside Jonathan Walters for the friendly against the United States. As well as being John O’Shea’s final appearance for his country, those two games also seemed to map out the future, with Declan Rice impressing in the centre of midfield.
But football doesn’t always work out the way you might expect.
Burke knows this as well as anybody as the visit of France to Dublin for the opening Euro 2024 qualifier at the end of this month gives reason to walk down memory lane.
He became the first League of Ireland to score for his country in 40 years, when he equalised from close range against the USA, and a move to Preston in the Championship the following month hinted that caps might become more regular.
Rice, of course, is now a fixture in the England side while Burke, who turns 30 this year, finds himself at the forefront of Rovers’ ambitions.
Not that he is wistful about the past or what might have been.
“That’s not something I really do, even in European games here. I don’t swap [jerseys] and not one to put them up on the wall,” he says.
“It was an unbelievable moment for me and the family to experience that. To score and play against France in their last game before they went on to win the World Cup was unbelievable.
“It’s difficult but I could recapture that form,” Burke continues. “Being confident in my ability, I hopefully can reach that form again.”
It has been a stuttering start to the Premier Division season for the defending champions, two draws and three players sent off adding to the pressure of an early encounter with Derry City tomorrow night.
The Candystripes, runners up in 2022 and FAI Cup winners, are the side everyone expects to put up the firmest challenge to the Hoops’ four-in-a-row ambitions.
Burke has been a bright spot with one stunning long-range goal against Sligo Rovers followed by a scrambled finish against Drogheda United.
“I feel good, I got a good pre-season under my belt, did all of pre-season whereas last year was disappointing, I had a lot of injuries, when I was coming back we were in a European run and it was very hard to train, we were going Thursday/Sunday,” he explains.
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“The boys were recovering and not many heavy days on the pitch. So when I came back I’d play one game, two games and then be gone so I needed a pre-season under my belt, get the gym work done.
I never had that physicality, the demands of training you need later on in the season. I’d get through games and then break down and have to start again.
“I feel more confident now as I had that pre-season, I had worked hard and put the body through them hard days in pre-season to deal with the season coming and to get two games under my belt, I am happy.”
Despite three of Rovers’ first choice centre halves – Roberto Lopes, Lee Grace and Dan Cleary – all suspended for tomorrow, Burke is relishing the chance to deliver a victory against Derry in front of what is expected to be a crowd in the region of 7,500 at Tallaght Stadium.
“We know how hard it is and it will be difficult as everyone is going to come for you. We know that and we will work extremely hard to win every game, we have the squad to try and go on and do it again.
“The squad is strong, the players we brought in are real high-calibre players. The standards we set, how successful we have been over this spell, to have two draws and people on the outside are saying ‘Rovers have had two draws’. It’s nothing we are thinking of, we should have won the games but the sendings off, you come away with a point. Now the test is Derry.”
It’s a long way from Paris but, five years on, Burke still has glory in his sights.