Saturday 23 February 2019

'New boy Burke takes it all in his stride' says O'Neill

GAME TIME: Graham Burke. Pic: Sportsfile
GAME TIME: Graham Burke. Pic: Sportsfile

As one legendary defender exits the international stage, Martin O'Neill will tonight ask a budding young forward to show that he can step up and contribute at senior level.

John O'Shea will get his send-off from Irish football tonight, though the 37-year-old admits that he hopes to contribute to the game here down the road, even joking that, should Waterford FC qualify for Europe next season he'd simply have to make a bid to come back home and play for the Blues.

O'Shea says he's not too worried about the future of the Irish team as the squad is well-stocked with players in defence and midfield, but everyone knows that up front is the big concern.

O'Neill had only three recognised strikers in his squad for the France/USA double header but one of them, Shane Long, is out of tonight's tie due to injury, while France away last Monday was only the second start, at any level, since last September for Jon Walters so he's unlikely to last 90 minutes against the USA.

Therefore, Shamrock Rovers man Graham Burke is certain to play some role, possibly from the start.

HOME FRONT: Liam O’Brien in action against Uruguay back in April 1986. Pic: Sportsfile
HOME FRONT: Liam O’Brien in action against Uruguay back in April 1986. Pic: Sportsfile

The sight of a home-based player in the starting XI for a home game is very rate, the last one to do so being another Hoop, Liam O'Brien (v Uruguay in 1986).

And O'Neill says he has no worries about putting Burke into the side for a friendly which is more important than usual as Ireland cannot afford to stretch their losing run to four games.

"He has taken things in his stride and he hasn't been overawed by anything both good and bad in England. He will certainly participate in the game and hopefully for a decent period," says O'Neill of Burke.

"It was a nice gesture of Shamrock Rovers not to play Graham in a very important game (last night v Dundalk).

"They were the ones - I didn't put it to them - and he has done very well in training. He's got a really nice touch and he is comfortable with it and I have said to him that this should give him an amazing boost of confidence.

"Secondly, if he really wants to return to football across the channel then this is some of platform for him. He is a really nice lad and wants to do well. He has done very, very well at training."

O'Neill confirmed that O'Shea will captain the side and start the game for his 118th, and final, appearance in the green jersey.

"John will lead the team out and play for a while. He will be replaced at some stage, we are probably looking at some time before half time," said O'Neill.

"We will see how that goes - if he is playing brilliantly then we will just leave him on."

Ireland are keen to end a three-game losing run tonight but while their opponents are still smarting from their failure to qualify for the World Cup finals, though a young and new-look USA side are on a decent run lately, unbeaten in four games.

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