"Everyone is going to come for you"- Shamrock Rovers' star Graham Burke ready for Derry City test
All eyes will be on Tallaght this Friday as Rovers search for a first win of the season.
A title decider three games into the campaign? Not quite, but the magnitude of Shamrock Rovers hosting Derry City cannot be understated when it comes to predicting this year's eventual League of Ireland winners.
Last season's FAI Cup winners Derry City make the trip to Tallaght off the back of a strong start to their season, following up their President's Cup victory over Rovers with an opening weekend draw at St. Pat's and a comfortable win over newly-promoted Cork City.
Conversely, Stephen Bradley's four-in-a-row chasing Shamrock Rovers side are in search of a first league win, coming off the back of consecutive 1-1 draws to both Sligo Rovers and Drogheda United.
However, speaking at Rover's Roadstone training complex prior to his side's first home game of the year, striker Graham Burke shirked off any criticisms laid at his side's slow start.
"The standards we set, how successful we have been over this spell, to have two draws and people on the outside are saying 'Rovers have had two draws'... It's nothing we are thinking of," the three-time capped Irish international said.
"We should have won the games but the sendings off, you come away with a point and now the test is Derry."
Derry, who were the Tallaght side's closest challengers last season, will travel to Dublin buoyed by a strong winter transfer window.
Ruaidhrí Higgins' side added the likes of striker Colm Whelan from UCD, Adam O'Reilly from Preston and former Arsenal youngster Jordan McEneff.
Commenting on his upcoming opponents, Burke said that: "Derry are a good side, we only had to look at them in the President's Cup to know they are a good side, we've had many battles in the past."
The striker, who scored in each of Rover's two games so far, added that: "They got stronger with the signings they have made. They will be a good team and we'll need to be at our best to win it."
It was then put to the former Aston Villa youth player that this season's iteration of Derry were the biggest threat to Rover's domestic dominance which they have faced over the past four years.
"Every year is the next challenge," Burke said.
"It's going to be difficult, we know that. But we have the boys who have the experience to deal with that, we know how hard it is... everyone is going to come for you."
Given the fine margins between the two sides, home advantage could be a crucial factor as Rovers aim to climb above Derry with a win.
Looking forward to his side's maiden fixture at Tallaght Stadium this season, Burke appeared eager to get back in front of a sold-out crowd: "I haven't been there since the final game of last season... It will be packed on Friday and it's going to be a great atmosphere".
Rovers, who have sold over 4,200 season tickets ahead of Friday night's clash, are not the only side enjoying the attendance boom which has hit the League of Ireland since its post-Covid return.
Grounds across the Premier Division are set to be sold out again on Friday night, carrying on from the impressive opening weekend attendance figures.
Those heading to Dublin 24 on Friday evening will be hoping to see Graham Burke in full flight, following a strong start to the season which has seen him score in consecutive games.
Injured for large spells of Rover's historic European escapades last season, the striker is now back to full fitness and looking to regain the form which saw him called up to the Ireland squad back in 2018.
"I feel more confident now as I had that pre-season," Burke said when discussing his impressive start to the campaign.
"I had worked hard and put the body through the hard days in pre-season to deal with the season coming and to get games under my belt, I'm happy."
Burke was asked if he was hopeful of hitting the heights of 2018, which saw his League of Ireland form not only earn him an international call-up but a move to English Championship Preston North End.
"I think I can get back to that level," the forward said.
"It's difficult but I could recapture that form. Being confident in my ability, I hopefully can reach that again".
With former Shamrock Rovers and Derry City manager Stephen Kenny now at the helm of the Ireland senior side, many domestic football fans are hoping that Kenny could turn to the ever-improving player pool within the League of Ireland for his upcoming international squads.
Ireland are set to meet Latvia later this month in a friendly fixture, before clashing with 2018 World Cup winners France in their opening European Championship qualifier five days later.
Asked about how he sees Kenny's side shaping up against the likes of Kylian Mbappé and Olivier Giroud, Burke asserted that "They're still an unbelievable team, very unlucky to lose the last one (December's World Cup final) in the lottery of a penalty shootout. It will be a tough game for Ireland."
Whilst some football fans may have their gaze firmly set on that glamour tie at the Aviva Stadium, those looking to experience the best that Irish domestic football has to offer should look no further than Tallaght Stadium on Friday evening, as last season's top two do battle in what will surely be an engrossing affair.
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