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Sunday 22 April 2018

Graham's golden spell at Hoops

Shamrock Rovers v Bohemians, tonight, Tallaght Stadium, KO 8.0

Super hoop: Shamrock Rovers striker Graham Burke has been rewarded for his fine form with the SSE Airtricity Soccer Writers’ Association of Ireland Player of the Month for March
Super hoop: Shamrock Rovers striker Graham Burke has been rewarded for his fine form with the SSE Airtricity Soccer Writers’ Association of Ireland Player of the Month for March

It's a talent that could, potentially, take its owner all the way to the senior Ireland squad.

Graham Burke's ability is also a talent that was almost lost to the game as the former Aston Villa man did lose his way for a spell, following his youthful exit from his Premier League club.

But the 24-year-old, now in his second season in the League of Ireland, is showing just how effective he can be, his form in March (where he scored six goals) earning him the vote as the player of the month from the SSE Airtricity Soccer Writers Association.

"If you're asking me, with his age profile, what sort of player he is, is he someone who could potentially play for us in the future, yeah I think he is," Rovers boss Stephen Bradley says, ahead of tonight's Dublin derby at home to Bohemians, when asked if former U21 cap Burke has the potential to win senior honours.

"His ability is as good as anything we have seen in the league. Graham just needed to settle".

Super hoop: Shamrock Rovers striker Graham Burke has been rewarded for his fine form with the SSE Airtricity Soccer Writers’ Association of Ireland Player of the Month for March
Super hoop: Shamrock Rovers striker Graham Burke has been rewarded for his fine form with the SSE Airtricity Soccer Writers’ Association of Ireland Player of the Month for March

Having made waves with goals for Villa's youth side in the NextGen competition, Burke did indeed struggle to settle.

A move to Notts County, upon his release by Villa in 2015 was not a success, and while he got games and goals at Rovers in his first season there last term, there was still a cloud over his head, a poor disciplinary record.

"I get frustrated with myself and have to keep that under wraps," Burke admits.

"You have your ups and downs in football and I've had my downs. When you have downs, you go through that spell of doubting yourself in your head and confidence goes.

"Coming back home, and the first season at Rovers, I found confidence again. As a player that's the thing you search for most and play off most, confidence and backing your ability. You're going to have ups and downs and the thing with the downs is that you have to persevere to get back to where you want to be," added Burke, who admits he benefited from a spell training with Robbie Keane at Rovers.

"His advice was 'you don't have to take the leather off the ball, you only have to roll it into the corner'. The thing with Robbie, whenever he was going to finish he would always have a look to see where the goalkeeper was to know where he could put it and where best to score. That was his advice he gave and seeing him up close was unbelievable." Tonight's game isn't just a case of Rovers looking for the win they need to stay in the top four, but also gain revenge for that 3-1 loss to Bohs on the opening day of the season.

Shamrock Rovers boss Stephen Bradley
Shamrock Rovers boss Stephen Bradley

"They're going to come at us, it's their cup final and we need to be ready for it," says Bradley, who admits that his side slacked off when in the lead away to Bohs in February and paid the price, losing 3-1.

"Respect the game, respect what it is, respect Bohs, respect that they're going to fight," Bradley says when asked if any lessons had been learned from the loss.

"It was a terrible game but we were in control, we were really comfortable. For 10 minutes we didn't respect what it had been and we got punished.

"I just think it happens, it's not arrogance or laziness. Sometimes as a player you're that comfortable in a game you just switch off, you can see the clock ticking down, you're comfortable, they're not creating chances and your mind just drifts for a minute or two."

For Bohs, the last week has yielded some positives, the first clean sheet of the season and progress to the last eight of the EA Sports Cup and there is the matter of that opening-night win at home to the Hoops.

"Rovers will have been hurting after us coming from behind to beat them the last time so as a team, we have to be prepared for a backlash," says Bohs boss Keith Long.

"But our focus has to be on ourselves and our own performance. We expect a big vocal travelling crowd and both team and supporters will be looking to get the result."

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