Natural talent Burke revived by move back to home soil
Shamrock Rovers stint has restored the confidence of the in-form street footballer
It was a five-a-side kickabout in Dublin's Spawell complex that played a big part in Graham Burke's move to Shamrock Rovers.
He would play on his summers home from Aston Villa in a gathering of pros and ex-pros that included Rovers boss- in-waiting Stephen Bradley. Burke's agent Graham Barrett would arrange the game. Jack Byrne and Eoghan Stokes were also part of the matches.
For Bradley, it was a beneficial exercise because when Burke came home from England after frustrating spells at Aston Villa and Notts County, he had an idea of what he was dealing with.
"I knew his character," said Bradley yesterday, speaking after Burke was named as the SSE Airtricity/SWAI Player of the Month for March. "The problem with Graham was that he just got lost in the system over there."
The 24-year-old is settled at home, and his talent is beginning to shine. As a kid at Belvedere, his talent was obvious. In some ways, the playmaker is a throwback, a street footballer with the ability to do something special.
Bradley's view is that Burke simply wasn't suited by dropping down the English ladder.
"Once you go down, you have to be very, very lucky to get the right manager who wants to play the right football," he says.
"Once it's kick and rush, and you see Graham moved out to the wings, it's not his type of game. When you get lost, you lose faith in what you have and what made you the player you are."
Burke is reluctant to offer excuses for why things didn't click over the water, but acknowledges his confidence was knocked.
He says that a move home has helped him on a day-to-day basis, and Bradley suggested the player is in no rush to depart Ireland, much as interest is inevitable.
"Having everyone I love living around me just makes me happier as a person," says Burke. "In England it was always,'what are we going to do?'
"Sometimes you sit around doing nothing. Now you can go and do anything, you can talk to the people close to you, just go to a mate's house for a cup of tea and play some PlayStation, whereas before it was a phone call. It's those normal interactions which made me happier as a person."
That is showing in his performances, with training-ground help from Robbie Keane last year also helping Burke with his finishing.
Bradley cites improved fitness and discipline as obvious factors in his continued progression - the low points of his first full season in Ireland were daft red cards which cost the player and team.
A cool head is required for occasions such as tonight when derby rivals Bohemians visit Tallaght.
Rovers have a point to prove following their opening-night reverse. With a view to the longer term, Bradley has received a boost with the news that one of his other rising stars, Trevor Clarke, may actually return before the end of the season with good news about his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) operation.
"He had the operation on Wednesday," said Bradley. "Half his ACL was still intact which was a big bonus and there was no structural damage whatsoever.
"Considering the feedback from the surgeon we'd be hoping to have him back (this season)."
Tonight's Tallaght fare should be spicy, although it is unlikely to match last Friday's Munster derby where tensions spilled over at the death with four red cards produced and both managers sent to the stands.
Waterford midfielder Stanley Aborah was given a six-match ban for his response, with the ex-Ajax player featuring prominently in referee Rob Rogers' report.
His midfield colleague Bastian Hery faces four games on the sidelines with Cork's Steven Beattie - who raced on to tackle Hery after he pushed over City boss John Caulfield - receiving the same sanction. Garry Buckley will sit out three games for grabbing Hery in the melee that arose from Blues time-wasting.
Caulfield and Waterford boss Alan Reynolds face just one match in the stands. Aborah had already been substituted when he confronted Buckley and then went after Rogers when a red card was produced.
There were suggestions that both clubs could face a fine for failing to control their players but they escaped financial penalties.