'They're seen as Clare players, not as Dubs'
Published 23/04/2016 | 02:30
There are always many twists and turns along the drive to inter-county success but Pat Burke's unique journey to Croke Park this evening with Clare was certainly navigated on a road less travelled.
To call it a scenic route would be an injustice as Burke has rubbed shoulders with household names on both sides of the Irish Sea. As a budding soccer pro, he regularly competed with and against players we are accustomed to seeing on our television screens every weekend.
Future millionaires and internationals like Michael Carrick, Joe Cole and Glen Johnson were all in opposition with him for a place on the books at West Ham (where he trialled eight times) and his flirtation with the beautiful game led to spells at Nottingham Forest, Sunderland and Leeds United.
He eventually found his way back to Dublin through a soccer scholarship with UCD before moving onto Kilkenny City. His League of Ireland experience was a brief one as he admits to "falling out of love with the game". At age 20, he turned to Gaelic football, or perhaps wandered to it.
It had barely been on his radar growing up but much like his soccer pedigree (Pat Burke Snr played with future Irish international Jim Beglin with Munster youths), his Gaelic lineage was clear for all to see with his father winning an All-Ireland club medal with Kilmacud Crokes in 1995.
His Quilty-born dad also returned home to represent Clare and little did the younger Burke realise, but a casual trip to Kilmacud one evening would change his career forever.
With his dad coaching the third team he decided to try his hand at Gaelic once again. And the sequence of events shows just how quickly things can happen within the GAA.
Having being called up to first team he would claim a Dublin SFC title three months later and a call to join Pat Gilroy's Dublin senior squad, and an opportunity to play in front of the Hill, soon followed. It was an experience he never expected and he topped it off by winning a couple of Leinster medals along the way.
"It was a huge honour to play for Dublin," Burke said last year. "There's an awful lot of people who grow up wanting to play for the Dubs and it's a unique thing playing in front of huge crowds. There is a sense of glamour to it that isn't attached to other GAA teams. They are times and memories I look back on very fondly and I really appreciate that I had the opportunity to do that."
He followed in his father's footsteps to win the Andy Merrigan Cup with Crokes in 2009 but he wasn't finished there. With his days with the Dubs behind him, an enquiry came from Clare boss Colm Collins to represent his second county - his mother hails from Lahinch - and he agreed.
"My one memory of him playing for Clare was when they lost to Tipperary in 1994 and I remember sitting on the bench and being absolutely devastated for them. I knew the amount of travelling he'd done and the effort he'd put in," he said.
It might be a new and improved surface but it is that very same trip which Burke makes twice a week to don the saffron and blue of the Banner. And much like the rest of his sporting career, the 32-year-old hasn't taken long to make an impact, as skipper Gary Brennan confirms.
"He has really embraced being part of the Clare panel. For any player the time it takes and the commitment it takes is huge and then you have to add to that the fact that he's travelling down from Dublin most of the time," Brennan said.
"It just shows the level of commitment he has to the thing and the huge interest. He's not a guy who has come in and felt he was better than the group or anything. He's committed very positively and he's great to have around the place for younger and older fellas, for everyone.
"He's just a fantastic influence. I'm just glad to have him and that he came and joined us.
"For an aul' fella it's usually around his age that you'd be thinking about packing it in (laughs) but thankfully he's one of the group now and we don't plan on letting him go. We'll hang onto him as long as we possibly can."
Burke has proven to have the golden touch in front of goals time and time again with Brennan keen to note that the powerful forward's calm demeanour off the field is reflected when he gets a sniff of a chance, although his efforts are usually more accustomed to raising green flags than white ones.
"I don't know if it's that he's not able to kick the ball high enough to put it over the bar or what," Brennan jokes. "At the end of the day he's a poacher; you know if you give it to Pat there's a good chance it's going to be rolling into the net.
"He's a very cool finisher and it's very reassuring to know that when you're running through you can ship it off to the likes of him and he'll look after the rest. There's no panic with him and he just gets on with things."
Along with fellow Dub Shane McGrath, whose father John also played with Clare, Burke has helped to blaze a trail for Clare since coming on board in 2015. They are joined by well-touted coach Mick Bohan, a Clontarf native who is a nephew of former Clare hurling boss Fr Harry Bohan, and was Jim Gavin's right-hand man in Dublin for many years.
These 'imports' have played a huge part in Clare's recent resurgence, culminating in today's Division 3 league decider with Kildare, but captain Gary Brennan is quick to point out that the trio are part of the natural fabric of the county.
"With all of them there's Clare links which is very important. They're not just boys coming in from Dublin that have no connection to Clare and the most important thing is that they want what's best for Clare football," Brennan concluded.
"The boys have committed to it and see themselves as Clare players. From my view they don't see themselves as Dublin fellas playing for Clare. We've been very lucky to have them involved and I couldn't speak highly enough of them."
Today's trip to Croke Park is an unusually short one for Burke but will the Banner road lead him up the Hogan Stand steps again?