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Monday 24 September 2018

Burke relishing Czech test as Rovers face stiff Europa challenge

M Boleslav v Shamrock R (kick-off 5.0pm Irish time)

Graham Burke celebrates his stunning strike in last week’s Europa League qualifier against Mlada Boleslav. Photo:
Graham Burke celebrates his stunning strike in last week’s Europa League qualifier against Mlada Boleslav. Photo:

Graham Burke delivered something quite spectacular from his left foot and scored one of the goals of the season when Shamrock Rovers faced their Czech opponents in the Europa League in Dublin last week.

This evening in Mlada Boleslav, it's going to take another spectacular effort, from Burke and the entire Rovers side, if they are to overcome a 3-2 deficit from the first leg, become the first Irish side to outwit Czech opposition in Europe for the first time and advance to the third qualifying round of the Europa League.

History, and the heat (predictions of 30-degree heat for today's 5pm kick off local time), are factors going against the away side, though Rovers will not have to worry too much about what in previous eras would have been called a 'cauldron of hate away to a crack east European outfit'. As of last night, the home side had sold, for their impressive-looking 5,000 capacity stadium, just over 700 tickets (priced at a reasonable €6), not counting the 250-strong support expected from Rovers, including one hardy Hoop who began his road trip to Bohemia last Friday in a campervan.

Those fans travel in hope, as it's a big ask for Rovers to win here by at least two clear goals.

But, bar some slack defending at home to Mlada Boleslav, the side have adapted well to Europe, especially forward Burke who has scored three goals in four Euro ties, and he has brought his confidence along wit his shooting boots.

"We have come here to do a job and all the focus is on tonight," Burke told The Herald yesterday as the Hoops squad acclimatised to the heat.

"Nothing is impossible, you could see in the first leg we created chances and scored two goals, we didn't take all our chances, we have come here knowing we need to score two goals and keep a clean sgeet to go though. But we have scored two against them already so we are capable," added Burke.

Twelve months ago, Burke was preparing for another season of fourth-tier football in England, with Notts County but the ex-Belvedere lad says he relishes the Euro stage.

"I enjoy the European games, these are the matches you want to play in as a player, to come away and play in the likes of the Czech Republic is great. This is one of the reasons why I came home from England, when I joined them I knew Rovers would be playing in Europe and it was something I looked forward to," he says.

"As a footballer some times things work out, sometimes they don't and Notts County didn't work out for me. I didn't have as good a time as I'd hoped over there but it's gone well here."

Boss Bradley is a big fan of the ex-Aston Villa player. "Last week in the home game, and in the last round in Iceland, he showed how good he is," says Bradley, who knows that tonight is a big, big challenge.

"Some of the stuff he did in the home leg was frightening, his touch for his first goal was world-class, if that happened in the Spanish league or the Premier League we'd all be raving about it.

"Going away in Europe looking to score two goals and not concede, it's a massive task. But if you look at this team everywhere we've gone we've scored, and I still believe we will score today because we create so many chances," he says.

"Against good teams you can get punished. And we were. We know we are going to have to be better than that defensively. But we've watched the first game back, we got a lot of opportunities and I believe that will be the same here. We have to defend better than we did last week, but I believe we can go and score against them."

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