You get one striking measure of just how far Graham Burke has come in a relatively short space of time when you ask him where he was the last time Ireland played Wales in Cardiff, that night in October of last year when James McClean scored the goal which put Martin O’Neill’s men through to the World Cup play-offs.
“I watched that in the Confession Box in Marlborough Street,” the 24-year-old Dubliner reveals with a smile. “There weren’t many in it because it’s not really a pub for watching football but I live on Sean McDermott Street and it’s just around the corner from me. I was going into the Living Room to watch it but it was packed, I couldn’t get into it, so that’s where I ended up going. It’s more of a tourist pub. I think there was only me, the girlfriend’s brother and a couple of other people. I don’t even know if everyone was watching the match but it was kicking off and we needed to find somewhere to watch it.”
After that memorable night looking on from afar, the then Shamrock Rovers man was a face in the crowd in Copenhagen and Dublin for the play-off games which, unfortunately, saw all the euphoria of Cardiff turn to ashes, the disappointed supporter that was Burke at the time little knowing that, in a matter of months, he’d be making his international debut away to France and then scoring his first goal for his country at home to the USA.
“If you’d have told me that, I wouldn’t have believed you,” he admits, adding that he was still having one of those pinch yourself moments as recently as the start of this week.
It all came so fast that there was no real time to think about it. This is happening, boom, you know what I mean? I got off the boat when I was coming into Dublin this week and I could see the Aviva. I was looking at it and thinking, ‘I was playing there for my country and I scored’.
“Growing up on Sean McDermott Street, to think that would have happened. You could have told me after that game that I’d have to stop playing football and I would have said, ‘yeah, fair enough, I’m content now, that’ll be fine for me’. It’s brilliant. Now, hopefully, there’ll be many more times like it.”
Outstanding in the domestic game for the Hoops, Burke was already attracting Preston’s attention before his Irish call-up but, even with international honours under his belt, he anticipated that there would be some scepticism in England when he finally made the move from the SSE Airtricity League to the Championship in the summer.
“No English person knows the League of Ireland, so they see their club signing a player and they don’t really know what they’re getting,” he reflects. “Some of them can be, like, ‘why are we signing him, he has no experience playing in the Championship’. But you can’t really listen to things like that, you just have to go and give it your best shot.
“It’s a completely different standard of football, a completely different ball-game. The intensity of training, the intensity of games, how many games there are, Saturday-Tuesday, it’s completely different to anything I’ve ever experienced. I’m still trying to adapt to that now.”
And doing that rather well, you’d have to say.
“I think I scored three in pre-season and then I’ve had two this season in four starts,” he says. “But it’s only a start. Football is a tricky game.
You could have two great games and then have two bad games. You just have to try and be consistent and that’s what I have to do now I’m in England, because it’s completely different to being in Ireland.
But, for the next few days at least, Graham Burke’s thoughts are firmly on his nascent career as an international footballer, and what he hopes he can bring to an Irish team currently in serious need of players who know how to find the back of the net.
“I don’t know if Martin sees me as a nine or 10,” he muses. “I think my position is a 10. For me, being a 10, I love to try to score goals. Going onto a pitch, that’s the only thing on my mind - to go out and try to score, because I’d like to think I am a goalscorer.”