Ireland’s latest League of Ireland export, Graham Burke, insists international aspirations didn’t prompt his decision to join Preston North End.
Within 10 days of becoming the first player in 40 years still operating in the domestic product to score for Ireland, Burke secured a €300,000 transfer from Shamrock Rovers.
The swiftness of the move indicated the 24-year-old was heeding the advice of manager Martin O’Neill and midfielder David Meyler by jumping up a level.
It wouldn’t have been tested until the next international gathering in September when the more serious business of the Uefa Nations League begins but the sense existed that Burke had a task on his hands to retain the spot had he remained at home.
Preston boss Alex Neil has removed the argument; expanding his Irish legion by maintaining the club’s recent pattern of snapping up the best of Irish. Like Seán Maguire 12 months ago, Burke was the standout striker on the home scene this season. He signed off on his 15-month stint at Rovers last Friday against Limerick by bagging his 13th goal of the season but admits he’d have continued on the stage if he didn’t deem Preston the right fit for his career.
“The thinking wasn’t about me needing to leave Ireland for the sake of my international career,” said Burke. “I wondered would the chance come up again if I didn’t take it. Preston have a massive tradition, they could offer Championship football and the fact so many Irish players are there was a major attraction.”
It was no coincidence that Burke rediscovered the form he’d showed in his teens after gaining happiness off the field. Being back around his family and friends in Dublin contrasted with the loneliness he endured in the latter stages of his first spell in England.
Loan stints from Aston Villa at Shrewsbury Town and Notts County didn’t work out, with isolation a contributory factor. The familiarity he’ll have at Preston, who could field a team of six Irishmen next season, will avoid a repeat.
Having two former teammates from his Villa days, recently-declared striker Callum Robinson and Damien Johnson, is another plus for a player long considered a ‘home-bird’.
With the Championship kicking off on the first weekend of August, Neil has ordered his Preston players into pre-season training at the end of June.
Burke jetted off on holiday at the weekend after helping steer Rovers back into the European qualification spots. He admits the team he leaves behind will struggle to catch the top two of Cork City and Dundalk but believes they can bridge the seven-point gap on third-placed Waterford.
He said: “I’ve a lot to thank Rovers for. The gaffer, Stephen Bradley, thought me to learn the game better and fitness coach Darren Dillon put a lot of time and work into building up my physique. I have only 10 days off between my last game for Rovers and pre-season training with Preston but I’ll be fresh from the holiday.
“This is a new chapter for me, a new challenge, and I’m in good condition to be ready for it.”
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