Villa U19 v Sporting Lisbon U19: Burke seeking crowning glory
Whatever happens over the next four days, the man whose goal propelled Villa to picturesque Lake Como will have plenty to smile about when he looks back on the 2012-13 campaign.
But 19-year-old forward Graham Burke hopes this weekend's NextGen Series finals will be the crowning moment.
One sweet strike of the left boot in the quarter-final tie against Olympiacos at Villa Park nine days ago was enough ensure the Young Lions were packing their bags for this glamorous Italian retreat.
Burke has continually produced moments of brilliance like this for the club's youth, reserves and U21 sides since arriving as a 16-year-old.
His efforts haven't gone unnoticed by Paul Lambert who handed the Dublin-born starlet his first taste of senior football in this season's Capital One Cup.
Those cameos against Tranmere and Bradford were a sure sign of Burke's progress - although his first team aspirations have been temporarily put on hold while he helps Villa's U19 squad chase European glory.
Burke hopes this weekend's finals can be a season-defining event.
Ahead of tonight's blockbuster last four encounter against Sporting Lisbon, he said: "We are going out to win this game and we are going out to win the competition.
"We want to come out here and make it the highlight of the season because the NextGen is the biggest competition there is for our age group."
The excitement in the Villa camp is palpable as Tony McAndrew's side look to repeat what they did in November and defeat a team who have been rated among the tournament favourites from the outset.
Burke scored twice during that memorable 5-1 win at the Sporting Academy in Lisbon.
He knows the stakes are a lot higher this time with a place in Monday's showpiece final against either Arsenal or Chelsea up for grabs.
"Sporting beat us at home then we went out there and beat them 5-1," he added.
"So we've already played them twice so we have an idea of what they are like so hopefully we can get a result.
"We know certain things about them although we don't know if it is going to be the same team.
"But we know they are going to be a good side and it will be a great game.
"I'm very excited. It has been a long journey for us after losing the first two games of the group stages.
"Nobody probably thought we could get this far and hopefully now we are here we can go even further."
As well as having a second season of NextGen football under his belt, Burke will be able to draw on the experience of his fleeting introduction to first team football.
After handing him his debut against Tranmere back in August, Lambert took a further leap of faith by throwing Burke into the action at the Valley Parade in the semi-final first leg defeat to Bradford.
The message from the manager was plain and simple: "Go out and express yourself."
He will be looking to do just that this evening at the Stadio Giuseppe Sinigaglia.
"I was chuffed when those chances came along, I never really expected it," Burke said.
"It was great to play in the first team and that is what I have been trying to achieve all along.
"It just makes you want to play it more and do it again and again.
"The manager just said go on and do what you do for the reserves. That was it really."
An absent friend will provide Burke with extra motivation tonight.
A foot injury has robbed goalscoring partner in crime Michael Drennan - Villa's leading NextGen Series marksman - the chance to grace these finals.
Burke and his Republic of Ireland compatriot have managed 13 goals on the 12 occasions that they have started together in all competitions this term.
There is an added determination amongst the boys in claret and blue to 'do it for Mikey'.
"It is a shame because he is the top scorer with six goals and we do miss his goals," added Burke.
"If he was available for the finals, who knows what he might have been able to do.
"But at the same time we have to go out and win and do it for him too.
"The likes of Mikey and Jordan Graham have helped us get to where we are now so we want to go out and do it for those lads."
Follow our live coverage of Villa v Sporting Lisbon this evening [8pm CET/7pm UK time].
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