Ready to Burst onto the Scene: Graham Burke
Scorer of both goals in the final of the NextGen Series over Chelsea recently, Dubliner Graham Burke is poised for a big future with Aston Villa and Ireland.
The chances of the Irish soccer team making the World Cup in Brazil next summer – and an excuse for thousands of Irish fans to take a once in a lifetime trip to the Copacabana beach – were, if we’re being realistic, all but thrown away by David Alaba’s last minute equaliser for Austria recently.
Only a few days later, however, in the exotic surroundings of Lake Como no less, the seeds of the future of the game in this country were being sewn by a few Aston Villa youngsters in the final of the NextGen Series, an under-19 tournament featuring some of the premier clubs in Europe.
Captain of the Villa team in the 2-0 victory over Chelsea in the final was Samir Carruthers, who has already represented the Villains in the Premier League and is a fixture of the Ireland under-19 and under-21 sides, while Jack Grealish was also involved and, like Carruthers, was on the scoresheet in the semi-final victory over Sporting Lisbon.
Bradley Lewis and Lewis Kinsella, who have both represented Ireland at under-age level were also in the starting line-up, while another Irishman, Michael Drennan, who scored six goals in the NextGen Series this season, was absent through injury. Aston O'Villa indeed.
While Carruthers got to lift the trophy and he and the rest of Villa's Irish contingent played a large part in Villa’s success, the hero of the hour was Graham Burke, who scored both goals on the night, both of which were penalties and were converted in an ice-cool manner.
Beleaguered Aston Villa coach Paul Lambert was watching on from the stands and would no doubt have been impressed by Burke’s efforts, while he would also have received a glowing report from under-19 coach Tony McAndrew, who had the following to say about the match-winner afterwards.
“Burkey was important,” McAndrew said.
“He had a sore groin and we had to take him off the other night but he was determined to play and he was one of 11 heroes.”
His captain and compatriot Samir Carruthers, meanwhile, heaped further praise on the Dublin native, saying: “I knew he was going to put the penalties away. He has never failed under pressure, he is so calm.
“It was just good that he scored because we’ve won this trophy now.”
Burke’s display in the NextGen final was no doubt the highlight of his season to date, but there have been plenty of moments to rival it, such as his senior Villa debut in the Capital One Cup against Tranmere in August and his first appearance for the Ireland under-21 side in a friendly against Portugal at the end of March.
The 19-year old, who played his football for Belvedere growing up, played as a striker and as a midfielder in various youth teams after joining Aston Villa as a teenager, but judging by his performances for the reserves, in the NextGen series and even for the senior team – he scored in pre-season friendly a few years back when he was only 16 – his future would appear to lie in the opposition penalty box.
With Robbie destined to hang up his boots sooner rather than later and with Jonathan Walters and Kevin Doyle both turning 30 later this year, we’ll soon be looking towards the next generation of Irish strikers and by the looks of things, Burke will be the at the front of the queue.
It’s an exciting prospect.