As far as first home games of the season go, they don’t come much more impressive than Shamrock Rovers striker Graham Burke’s five-goal haul against Cork City at Tallaght Stadium.
The 26-year-old was on fire as he found the net for fun against the Leesiders helping Rovers to an emphatic 6-0 win for their second victory of the season.
What’s even more impressive about Burke’s feat of goalscoring brilliance is that he achieved the majority of it – four of the five goals – after suffering a calf injury, which has kept him out of Rovers’ last two games.
“It wasn’t a severe pain or anything but it was just a case of ‘oh what’s that.’ I could run around on it and it didn’t cause me any issues so I went in at half-time and just said it to the physio and he thought there’s no point in risking it. But it wasn’t troubling me running around so I ended up going out and playing up until the 88th minute.
“I woke up the next morning then and I knew something was up and that I’d probably aggravated it more by continuing.”
The injury, which has seen Burke miss wins against Waterford and Dundalk, is only a small blow in what’s been a fruitful return to Tallaght, following his arrival on loan from Preston in the summer.
Arriving half-way through the season, the Republic of Ireland international took a little time to get up to speed at Tallaght but still found minutes in addition to an FAI Cup winners medal.
With a full pre-season and five goals already in the bag, Burke is hoping that he and Rovers can kick-on and keep their momentum from a tremendous start, into the rest of the campaign.
“I’m enjoying being home. We won the cup which is great, we’ve started the season pretty well so it’s all about keeping it going and taking that momentum into every game.”
Burke’s return to Rovers from Preston was seen as a major coup for the Dublin club and one that, all the early signs seem to indicate, could play a huge part in the club’s success this season.
The striker spent a season at Deepdale and despite starting strongly and found the net in just his second league game against Stoke City. Burke fluctuated in and out of the team before eventually heading to League One Gillingham on loan.
He found minutes easier to come by at the Gills but explained that he couldn’t quite settle. So when his old club Rovers came calling during the summer was it an easy or difficult decision for Burke to return home?
“It was a bit of both,” he admitted.
“I wasn’t playing at Preston and then I went to Gillingham. I was playing but there was something missing for me. I know what makes me tick and I know what drives me on, I know who I am as a person and I knew come the summer that Rovers were willing to bring me back so it was all down to my options were going to be.
“I’ll assess all my options and see what is going to be the best for me at that moment in time. I knew Rovers were challenging for the league at the time, and there was European football.
“I just wanted to get it done, it wasn’t done quick enough to get European football because I came in just as the first leg was over so I didn’t get to play in the second leg but going on to win the cup it makes that feeling of coming back special.”
Burke’s first spell at Rovers also saw him earn a call up to Martin O’Neill’s Ireland squad in 2018, with the 26-year-old winning three caps and finding the net in a friendly win against the USA.
With his Rovers teammate Jack Byrne finding his way into the international setup after returning home from England, the path to an international recall is there for Burke, especially if he keeps his scoring form up. However, he outlined that it wasn’t something he thought much about when joining the Dublin club.
“It wasn’t in the back of my mind. It’s something that I wasn’t really thinking about.
“When I first went to Preston I was in a couple of squads and then it dwindled down and I knew it was going to take a lot to get back into it because of where I was at that moment in time.
“To come back to Rovers I wasn’t thinking of the international setup at all. As a player, you don’t really want to think about it too much. If it comes it comes, if it doesn’t it doesn’t.”
Graham Burke was speaking a today’s announcement of eir sports upcoming soccer coverage is Shelbourne FC manager Ian Morris, Bohemian FC manager Keith Long and Shamrock Rovers FC midfielder Graham Burke. eir sport will broadcast 15 SSE Airtricity League games in the coming months and will continue to broadcast all of the Republic of Ireland’s home UEFA U21 qualifiers.