Royal exile a blessing in disguise as Burke comes full circle
IN the frenzy that surrounded Graham Geraghty's recall -- and the fallout that saw the departure of two selectors before a championship ball was kicked late in May 2011 -- Mickey Burke was able to slip quietly back into the Meath squad without a floorboard creaking.
Before anybody had even noticed that he and Chris O'Connor were gone -- part of a nine-man cull by management at the end of the league -- they were back.
If anything reflected the chaos that existed in Seamus McEnaney's Meath camp at that time, it was the movement of Burke. Surplus to requirements at the end of the league, he was back through the revolving doors within six weeks.
The run of games he has enjoyed since is evidence that he never looked back. But, perhaps, he shouldn't have had to look back in the first place.
"Maybe it was the best thing to happen (to) me. I went back, enjoyed my club football, kept in contact with the lads, and Seamus called me back in again for the Galway game in Navan in the qualifiers," he says.
If his form had dipped in the early part of the McEnaney reign, it was perhaps understandable after the horrific leg break he sustained in a Leinster quarter-final replay against Laois in Tullamore the previous summer.
The damage was bad. "Tibia and fibula both broken. I did medial ligaments in my knee as well. That was a dark place at the time. I didn't know whether I was ever going to get back playing," he says.
"You'd probably get back playing sport, but I remember lying on the bed down in Tullamore, lying in my Meath kit because I couldn't get togged off, hoping I'd get a chance to get back. It was a long road."
It had been an innocuous collision. "I think one of the Laois players tumbled on me, my leg was just planted in the ground, and it was a really dry day. These things happen, you've got to get up and get on with it."
Burke comes from a part of the county that might loosely be described as 'hurling country', an area not renowned for feeding Meath senior football teams.
His father, also Michael but universally known as 'Stoney', owns one of the local pubs in Longwood and has the distinction of playing minor and senior football championship games for Meath on the same day.
"That's what he says. He was goalie for the minors in 1958 or '59. The sub-goalie for the seniors got injured, or was sick -- and he played on the same day. It's the one thing he does boast about," says Burke Jnr.
Pound for pound, Burke might just be physically the strongest footballer Meath have. Sean Boylan gave him his break in 2005, and he played a qualifier game that year against Antrim as a wing-forward.
His philosophy remains simple.
"I'm not the greatest footballer ever to play for Meath, but you're proud to put on the jersey any time you're given it, and go out and do your absolute best and try and be smart on the field," he says.
Longwood isn't too far from the Kildare border and the football fortress of Johnstownbridge. So, finally getting one over this Kildare team meant that little bit extra.
Kildare panelist Brian Flanagan, a Johnstownbridge native, lives nearby in the village.
"His father built the estate behind our house. I'd be in his house nearly every night. We're good pals. But I haven't been chatting to him since the game," says Burke.
Burke (26) says the performance more than the result was the chief concern before the Kildare game, but acknowledges the influence of both John Evans and Trevor Giles since they were brought on board.
"We always felt we had a chance, but winning maybe didn't come into it -- more so getting the performance," he says.
From where they were at the end of the league, it has been quite a remarkable transformation.
"We had a fierce bad league. Meath are a very passionate football county and the pressure was definitely on. We were fierce nervous going into that game (the Championship opener against Wicklow), there's no doubt, after the league.
"Let's call a spade a spade. There's been a lot of shock departures of management, and a lot of talk. But, players just try and stay out of it and just try and train -- well, I know I do. I try and keep the head down, and you do your best for every manager.
"We were under pressure. I suppose the crowd were on our back. Everything was going through your mind, but we managed just to swing that game around ... maybe a snowball effect, things just seem to be working out for us at the moment."