Martin O'Neill gives it straight on Ireland's newest goal-poacher Graham Burke
"I've relished every minute of it... to top it off with a goal, I don't think I can really put it into words."
All week, in training, Graham Burke was determined to show Martin O'Neill, Roy Keane and the entire Ireland squad that he was not out of place 'and that I can mix it with these boys'.
The Shamrock Rovers forward had made a promising cameo, on debut, against France and ended a whirlwind week by scoring Ireland's equaliser in a 2-1 win over the USA. Darragh Lenihan's shot was heading in but Burke, positioned on the goal-line, helped himself to the first of what he surely hopes will be many international goals.
He was withdrawn from the fray almost immediately after the goal celebrations died down and the reaction on the sideline, and in the stands, will live with him for years to come.
When Burke came off last night. O'Neill shook his hand. Roy Keane shouted at him. 'Well fuckin done' if my lip reading skills are up to scratch.
— James Donnelly (@JayDonnelly_93) June 3, 2018
Look at that smile!
Graham Burke leaves the pitch having just scored.
Replaced by another former #LOI man, Daryl Horgan.
What a night for the Dubliner and all at @ShamrockRovers. pic.twitter.com/7cdBywCOcH
— eir Sport (@eirSport) June 2, 2018
Following the game, RTE's Tony O'Donoghue informed O'Neill that Burke was the first League of Ireland player to score an international goal in 40 years.
"Is that right?" asked O'Neill. "I'm delighted for him." He then added:
"Not necessarily for... I thought the game was tough for him tonight, as I expected it to be. It worked out almost as I thought it might do. The game past him by for periods; not really his fault, at times.
"I'm really pleased for him as he has come in and, in terms of training, he always wants to try and hit the target. And the same with Alan Judge as well. From that viewpoint, and the training aspect, I'm really delighted for the two of them."
The Ireland manager was asked about the 24-year-old in the post-match press briefing. While once again expressing his delight for the former Aston Villa and Notts County player, there were some critical comments.
Asked if he would feature for Ireland in the future and add to his two caps, O'Neill responded, "That will be entirely up to him." He added:
"He's an exceptionally nice footballer. I think it was quite quick tonight even though it was a little bit [sedate] in the first half, as I said to you. Maybe it was a little bit strange to him, as I expected it to be.
"Really now, for him, whatever he has designs on he has to push on. If it is, for instance, that he wants to go back and play in England, I think these things will only give him as big a boost of confidence as he can get."
It was interesting to hear a return to English football suggested for a player who had just forced his way into the international reckoning by putting in a string of impressive performances with Rovers in the Airtricity League.
There was no molly-coddling from O'Neill and Burke will surely take his boss' comments on board but some felt the Derry native had been harsh:
Martin O'Neill is a bluffer who's comments last night about Graham Burke beggar belief.
— Tim O'Keeffe (@timoffski) June 3, 2018
Everyone who sees Graham Burke play know he has the ability he may be a bit behind in fitness but O'Neills comments were uncalled for. Did not see game but could O'Neill just not have said he done well and moved on ?
— Gerard Wheatley (@GerryStanding) June 3, 2018
Good analysis from Kevin Doyle and Keith Andrews on Graham Burke's performance last night and how he looked the for the ball constantly. He didn't let the game pass him by according to Andrews. A totally contrasting comment to the one made by the dinosaur in charge of the team. https://t.co/hLBWNEFmsz
— Jason Maloney (@maloney_jason) June 3, 2018
Everything O'Neill said about Burke makes me feel like he will only be seriously considered once he leaves Ireland and the League of Ireland. Just the way he phrased his responses makes it sound like he'll only really look to him again if he is not based here.
— Gareth Penrose (@garethpenrose) June 2, 2018
Ireland are not in action until September. Burke will be kept busy with Rovers over the summer but it will be worth keeping track of where he starts 2018/19.