Kevin O’Brien reports from Parnell Park

LAST SUNDAY WAS the latest chapter in Pat Burke’s eventful football career.

The 35-year-old corner-forward scored three points, two from play, as Kilmacud Crokes squeezed past Portlaoise and into the Leinster club SFC final. 

Cathal Finn challenges Pat Burke for the ball.

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

It’ll be his fourth provincial decider with Kilmacud, but this one at the twilight of his career is as welcome as it is unexpected.

“It’s been eight years,” Burke says. “I thought the chance would come for Kilmacud, I doubted that it would come for me personally. I think they were trying to retire me for a couple of years.

On a personal level, I’m delighted. From a club perspective, I think we have the talent to be competing at this level and I think we need to be doing it more consistently.”

The four-time Dublin SFC winner, three-time Leinster medallist and 2009 All-Ireland winner has taken an interesting path. His father, also named Pat, played with his native Kilmurry-Ibrickane and Clare before the family upped sticks to Dublin in the 1980s.

In 1992 Pat Burke senior won his first senior championship title. In 1995, at 37, he played wing-back in Kilmacud’s maiden All-Ireland victory. 

Young Pat preferred soccer as a teenager and focused on forging a career in the sport. He once featured on a Milk Cup team alongside Kieran Richardson and Anton Ferdinand, while he trained alongside Joe Cole during a trial at West Ham.

Further trials at Nottingham Forest, Leeds United and Sunderland followed, but no concrete offers transpired. He won a scholarship at UCD and played in the League of Ireland for them, before a serious ankle injury sidelined him for 12 months.

On his return, he signed with Kilkenny City but quit after half a season. By chance, his father was in charge of the Kilmacud thirds who were short players for a match in July 2005.

Burke arrived off the bench that day and did well. 10 days later, the 21-year-old was promoted to play with the seconds. By that October he was starting alongside the likes of Johnny Magee, Paul Griffin and Ray Cosgrave as Kilmacud won the senior county title. He never looked back.

“It’s been a strange journey,” Burke admits. 

Pat Burke during his debut Kilmacud campaign at 21-years-old in 2005.

Source: ©INPHO

Outside of his club success, Burke had a couple of stabs at it with the Dublin panel. He featured off the bench in every championship game under Pat Gilroy in 2009. His final game for the Dubs was in the 2011 league final.

He didn’t make the squad for the championship, agonisingly missing out on being part of the first side from the capital to deliver Sam Maguire in 16 years.

But there was another twist in the tale for Burke, who was enticed to play with his father’s county Clare by Colm Collins in late 2014. He instantly became a key player for the Banner and in 2016 was part of their Division 3 league final win over Kildare before featuring on their remarkable run to the All-Ireland quarter-finals.

I had a great time in Clare. That (2016) All-Ireland quarter-final against Kerry, I played that day so that was my last game for Clare. 

“No, look there’s not many Clare men who got the opportunity to play in Croke Park and finish at that. But I had a great time playing for them. I wish I could continue playing but just the body wasn’t up to it. But very enjoyable time definitely.”

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Burke last played with Clare in 2016.

Source: Lorraine O’Sullivan/INPHO

The latest test sees the half-parish of Mulinaghta from Longford stand between Burke and a fourth Leinster crown.

Just reading briefly about them during the week, or hearing about them, they seem like a very impressive club, they seem like they’re doing everything right. It’s probably no surprise they’re in a Leinster final, they’ve been coming for the last three years, putting in really good performances.

He continued: “We don’t know a huge amount about them at the moment but we’ll study them over the next couple of weeks. No, their form has been very impressive, it’s not like it’s just this year, the last couple of years they’ve really been producing performances and they kind of look like a coming team. We’re in a Leinster final, you’re going to be playing good sides. Playing football in December, that’s what I like to be doing.”

When it’s put to him that the provincial final has the look of David versus Goliath about it, Burke makes an interesting observation about the challenges bigger clubs like Crokes face. 

It’s funny, there’s different challenges from different clubs. I was looking at Scott Penny the Leinster forward, doing well for Leinster yesterday, I coached him briefly when he was U14, so there’s kind of two sides to things.

“You can have a small club and you can have everyone in together and then we’re a bigger club, yeah, but we’re competing against bigger entities again with the likes of Leinster.

“We’ve lost the likes of (Ian) Madigan, Ian McKinley, Scott Penny, Eoin Barr is another lad who is playing international rugby underage at the moment. So yeah, it is a different environment but there’s different challenges too. 

Scott Penny starred for Leinster against Ospreys last weekend.

Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“They were all Crokes kids so it’s a different challenge and we possibly face different challenges to other GAA clubs but I think we’re doing a huge amount of good work in our local area.

“Kids would be lost to sport otherwise and I think it’s a huge credit to Paraic McDonald, Niall Corcoran, the GDOs of our club that they’re getting those lads in. It’s just unfortunate we lose a few to professional sport but that’s the way it is.

Portlaoise were without Zach Tuohy there today, he’s another lad that would have made a big difference to them.”

Without Paul Mannion at full tilt on Sunday, Kilmacud still had the attacking weapons to hurt Portlaoise at the back. It was a very open game of football, with two sides who played positive brands of football.

“The times we’ve played before in Leinster it’s always been a little bit mad. The games are very much end to end. We knew Portlaoise would play 15 on 15, they don’t leave anyone back. It’s just all a little bit frantic, there tends to be a lot of mistakes in the games but then a lot of good scores and a lot of good goals too. They’re really enjoyable to play in.

Pat Burke fields a high ball over Cian O’Dwyer.

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“We came out on the winning side so it’s always that bit more enjoyable. Yeah, it’s end to end, it’s not defensive football, we’d have huge respect for the way they come out and play football. They have some beautiful passers of the ball and they really move the ball well. I suppose we’re just really glad to get over the line.

“It was just simply the style of football that Portlaoise played. We’d been playing very defensive teams at times. They came out and played man on man and it was a different challenge for us. It took us a while to adapt. We benefited hugely from it.

It’s great to be winning matches and looking back saying, ‘Jeez, we have a load of things to work on’. That’s the way we kind of feel in the dressing-room now.”

With no retirement plans as of yet, Burke says he’s enjoying his football as much as ever.

“In the first round of the championship Cian O’Sullivan wasn’t playing so I think I was the oldest outfielder by about eight years.

“I’m 35 now. I’ve seen a lot of change. I suppose there’s so many young lads in the team it’s great.

“What the management have done this year is got the best out of the players we have. Once you’re getting the best out of players that’s all you can ask. We’re just trying to play football the right way, the management team have been good to us.”

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