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Wednesday 22 August 2018

Hoop Burke swaps fan role for centre stage

Graham Burke listens to Martin O’Neill before going on
Graham Burke listens to Martin O’Neill before going on

From punter to player, Graham Burke is well aware that he's made some journey in the last six months.

When Ireland played Denmark in the World Cup playopff last year, Burke was a regular member of the Irish support, crammed into the Parken Stadium in Copenhagen with some Shamrock Rovers team-mates.

Yesterday at Parkhead, Burke (24) put aside the problems of logistics and fatigue (he played for Shamrock Rovers in Sligo on Saturday night, flew to Glasgow on Sunday morning, went through a flight delay and only landed in the Scottish city two and a half hours before kick off) and trotted out to play for an Ireland XI in Scott Brown's testimonial.

"I went to Copenhagen with a few of the lads at Rovers a few months ago, and there I was sharing a dressing room with those players in Glasgow, it's incredible for that to happen in six months, it shows what you can achieve," Burke, a product of Belvedere, said after the 2-2 draw.

"It's a big turnaround.It's mad to think that a lad from town grows up dreaming of playing for Ireland and you go on and play, I know it was a testimonial and there is no cap but to achieve that is unbelievable, you don't get many from the north inner city playing for Ireland.

Unbelieveable

"Wes (Hoolahan) did it and I always looked up to him as he plays the game the way I like to play it, there are good people in the north inner city to come out of that and achieve this is unbelievable."

Burke had a busy weekend: he started for Rovers in a 0-0 draw away to Sligo, was driven back to Dublin by his uncle Noel ("it was quicker than the team bus," he joked), got to bed around 1am and was up at 7am for his flight to Scotland.

"I had to pinch myself when I got to Parkhead, to think that the night before I was playing in Sligo and went on to play in front of 60,000, even to stand there for the national anthem was something else, that will stay with me for the rest of my life," says Burke, from Sean McDermott Street.

"It was all about getting in, getting changed, getting a warm-up done, I had to keep the legs going instead of sitting down in case I got stiff, I had to keep getting fluids in and I was delighted to get 30 minutes in.

"Nerves will play a part once you get onto the pitch, but once you get your first touch under your belt you relax, you get into the game and you can go and play."

The challenge for Burke now is to keep involved. He reports back for training with Rovers today to prepare for tomorrow's derby at home to St Patrick's Athletic.

"It's going to take a lot for me to get back in, some great performances for my club, to keep playing the way I have been and scoring goals, keep my head down and work hard and hopefully the rewards will come, I have a taste for it now and that drives me on to look for more," he added.

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