PAT BURKE has squeezed a lot in to his GAA career. An All-Ireland club title with Kilmacud Crokes and a couple of Leinster medals with Dublin isn't a bad return for someone who didn't play club football until he was 20.
Such latecomers rarely make such an impact, but during his formative years, Burke looked set for a promising career in soccer. West Ham had a long, hard look at him as a youngster, while he also visited Nottingham Forest, Sunderland and Leeds before UCD offered him a soccer scholarship and an avenue to the League of Ireland.
Before long he found himself with Pat Scully in Kilkenny City where his appetite for a league career went the same way as the now defunct club. A mutual termination of his contract quickly followed and, with time on his hands, he wandered down to Crokes where his father (himself a club All-Ireland winner with the Stillorgan side) was managing the third-string side. Within a year, he was called up to Paul Caffrey's Dublin squad.
"The emphasis in the League of Ireland is that it's more on the individual than the collective. People change club every season and you are playing for different teams and it just wasn't for me," he said. "Pat Scully was my manager in Kilkenny and there are contrasting styles between himself and Paddy (Carr) in the way they go about things.
"It sounds cheesy, but I fell out of love with the game. In the end, I got released by Kilkenny. It was mutual, I was playing crap and he was glad to get rid of me. Then my Dad needed subs for his third team and I went out with them and it happened from there."
He travelled to West Ham on eight separate occasions with a handful of other hopefuls and the coaches there made it clear that maybe one of them would forge a career in top-flight football. As it turned out, he was in with an exceptionally talented group that included the likes of England internationals and millionaires Glen Johnson and Kieran Richardson.
"I did have the dream I suppose, but looking back I wasn't good enough in that sense. I was over with West Ham a few times and you'd be living with Michael Carrick and training with Joe Cole. The players on my team were Anton Ferdinand, Glen Johnson, Kieran Richardson, Liam Ridgewell, who is with Birmingham, and they were saying: 'If one of you lads make it, it would be exceptional'. But four or five came through. It was always a bit of a pipe dream, but it was in the back of my head.
"The first time I played a game with Joe Cole he got the ball and stuck it through my legs. I was 14 and he was about 16 and he was already a bit of a superstar in that he was already well known. Some of the stuff he did was just unbelievable."
West Ham's loss has been Crokes' gain as they set their sights on another All-Ireland title.
And there are striking similarities between the current campaign and their successful 2009 season. Rhode and Crossmaglen were beaten that season and they'll have to repeat the trick if Burke, the Crokes' captain in the absence of the injured Darren Magee, is to collect the Andy Merrigan Cup.
They overcame a lengthy list of absentees to beat Rhode and collect the Leinster title last month, a victory Burke described as one of the sweetest he has been involved in.
"Darren, Paul Griffin, Mark Davoren were injured and then Niall Corkery had to go away to work and Rory O'Carroll was in France. That's a serious crisis for an inter-county team, never mind a club side. We felt we had been written off -- and probably rightly so when you have that many injuries -- and I don't think we got the credit we deserved the previous time we played Rhode (in 2008).
"We were seven points down, down to 14 men and against the breeze and we came back that day. But the emphasis was on Rhode letting it slip rather than what we did to turn it around. We felt we had a bit of a point to prove."
They strangled the life out of the Offaly side, despite their bright start, in a manner where Burke drove on his side in typically busy fashion. He's on the fringes of the Dublin team and over the winter, Clare suggested that he throw his lot in with them via the GAA's parentage rule. It's a far cry from being courted by West Ham where he might have ended up. Even a career in the domestic league could have offered some financial gain. So, any regrets?
"There was never a prospect of me sacrificing my Leaving Cert and it's not as if there was a contract put in front of me. I was a striker and pretty raw. I was like an Emile Heskey who scores no goals! I worked hard and hoped for the best. I could be effective at times, but raw, very raw.
"But I have a club All-Ireland medal and I have played for Dublin. That's worth more to me than any money."