Martin O'Neill challenges Graham Burke to take chance after first senior call-up

Graham Burke.

Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill has challenged Shamrock Rovers striker Graham Burke to embrace his first senior call-up, as John O'Shea prepares to make a final international appearance.

On Wednesday evening, O'Shea, who has won 117 caps since 2001, announced his decision to retire following the friendly against the United States in Dublin on June 2.

O'Neill subsequently confirmed when naming a provisional 40-man squad on Thursday afternoon for the upcoming fixtures, which also include trips to Celtic and France, the Sunderland defender would be leading Ireland out at the Aviva Stadium to give the 37-year-old a fitting send-off.

Martin O'Neill and John O'Shea.

However, there was also a look towards the changing of the guard as the squad regroups following failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

Burke, 24, is the current leading scorer in the League of Ireland with nine goals.

O'Neill also handed first senior call-ups for Preston forward Callum Robinson and Peterborough goalkeeper Conor O'Malley, who are both 23.

Millwall midfielder Shaun Williams, meanwhile, is set to join the Ireland squad for the first time at the age of 31.

Burke started his career at Aston Villa, but failed to break into the regular first-team set-up.

The forward moved to Notts County on a permanent deal in July 2015 before returning to join home-town club Rovers in February last year.

O'Neill has been keeping a close eye on his progress.

While the Republic boss accepts international football clearly presents a "step up", O'Neill feels Burke can rise to the challenge.

"He has nice ability. Sometimes when you are looking at a game and someone is standing out in a particular match, then you think 'is he capable of doing that?' let's say, for instance, in the Premier League," O'Neill said during a press conference after naming his squad at the SPAR Primary 5s Leinster Finals in Navan.

"He has come back from Villa, that might be for a number of reasons. It might be homesickness, maybe he didn't get the proper break - I really don't know.

"It looks like he's showing that ability again, and who knows what might happen in the future.

"I have, during my time, put some players into the squad that have made a peripheral squad and then dropped out.

If he gets the chance, then go take it. That would be my advice to him on the field of play here in this match. Go and play your game.

The Football Association of Ireland confirmed some players would drop out of the squad after the match at Celtic Park, with others set to join up later following play-off action with their respective clubs.

O'Neill will use the friendly games as part of his preparations ahead of the opening UEFA Nations League fixture away to Wales on September 6.

By then, the squad will have to do without the services of the ever-dependable O'Shea, who endured a tough domestic season as Sunderland were relegated from the Sky Bet Championship.

Republic boss O'Neill paid tribute to the 37-year-old's long service for both club and country.

"I thought he was a great influence, particularly on the younger players when I came into the Irish squad, (he was) a great, great help to me," O'Neill said in an interview with RTE.

If you consider the number of games he has played for Manchester United, the number of matches he has played for us at international level, getting over the 100, that might tell you about his career.

- PA

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