AIB All-Ireland Club SFC Final
Ballymun Kickhams (Dublin) v St Brigid’s (Roscommon)
At 26 and in his seventh year with Ballymun Kickhams, it’s fair to say Mayo man James Burke knew his own mind from an early stage.
Studying in Drumcondra’s St Patrick’s College, it was with little or no hesitation that he decided to up sticks and leave his native Ardnaree Sarsfields for a Dublin club in his late teens.
“I always wanted to experience senior football,” he states, “and I suppose the logistics of being able to travel up and down, it would have been a long slog.”
Except, it could have been St Vincent’s instead of Ballymun for Burke, who was then a member of the Mayo minor team alongside the likes of Donal Vaughan, Ger Cafferkey and Seamus O’Shea that went down to Martin Clarke’s Down in the 2005 final.
As he recalls: “When I came straight up (to Dublin), I was on campus in Marino and one night I went down to see St Vincent’s play. I’d heard that they had a decent minor team at the time and I went down to the minor manager and asked him what the story was with getting involved. I didn’t mention anything about me being minor or coming off playing in the All-Ireland final. I just asked out of interest and he just pointed at me and said ‘the junior team are training down there’. I just said ‘that’s grand’ and back I went to campus and met Eoin Dolan a week or two later and ended up here with Ballymun.”
Dolan, who was in the same year as him, now plays in the full-back line behind him. He introduced him to the club’s Dublin full-back Paddy Christie — a man who groomed several of the team that will line out against St Brigid’s tomorrow.
Now a teacher in Scoil Mhuire national school in Howth, the two-time Connacht U21 winner is a fully-fledged member of the club.
Thanks to the Dolan family, he immediately felt a part of the set-up. “It is a very welcoming club,” he explains. “When I came up first and met the likes of Paddy Christie, there were no airs and graces about these guys.”
Burke, though, has never contemplated switching counties. In 2011, he was a member of James Horan’s panel right through his first season in charge before being told he was surplus to requirements.
“Remember the game that Mayo played London in?”, he asks of the game in which the Connacht side were forced into extra-time. “That would have been my first Championship game and James Horan rang me and said ‘you have been training well the last while but we are going to give Trevor (Mortimer) the nod’.
“He was playing this kind of sweeping role and I had played that in training and kind of did okay. He said ‘listen, just be ready to come on.’ “Usually, you go out and you’d thump London but that day it ended up being real, real tight. Trevor Mortimer was sitting on the bench beside me and of course Trevor got the nod, obviously with the experience, and he kicked a great score that actually brought us to extra-time and we scraped through so...”
Naturally, he still harbours thoughts of returning to the panel. Although the travelling back and forth from home is a difficulty, Sunday provides a window of opportunity. “You never know, I still see myself as relatively young, I’m only gone 26 so maybe, maybe.”
Burke’s younger brother Cian is making waves at under-age level and will feature in the U21 team that faces Galway next week.
While still with Ardnaree, older Burke warns he could follow in his footsteps to Dublin. “I think he has a very bright future and is due to move to college shortly so we might see him up here.”
That 10-point minor final defeat to Down eight years ago isn’t a great Croke Park memory for Burke. As much as he knows St Brigid’s have more experience of the stadium never mind the occasion, he can look around the dressing room and see plenty of guys who have more than sampled GAA HQ.
“I was thinking that a lot of it has to do with the Croke Park factor. I was going through our team and looking at the different players, James McCarthy plays there every second week, Philly McMahon likewise.
“And I know a lot of the U21 players and minor players, especially Dublin minors, get such exposure to Croke Park that they’re out there playing. So if you were to line up all players and look at them I’d say a lot of ours would have more experience in Croke Park.”
Confident talk but coming from a man who went after what he wanted and got it, is it really much of a surprise?
Three key battles
1) Sean George v Senan Kilbride
It took something special to shift Philly McMahon out of the Ballymun full-back line for the Dr Crokes game and that was Sean George’s form in training. The former Laois U21 player turned Dublin senior panellist did a fine job on Colm Cooper in Thurles, and although Kilbride represents a different challenge, it should be an intriguing battle.
2) James McCarthy v Karol Mannion
If Ballymun Kickhams are lacking one thing, then perhaps it’s height in midfield and yet they have more than compensated for it with the running pair of James McCarthy, who can undoubtedly field a ball, and Davy Byrne. At 31, Karol Mannion is certainly a seasoned campaigner and is as much a footballer as he is an athlete.
3) Dean Rock v Peter Domican
Domican’s shift to the full-back line from centre-back for St Brigid’s under Kevin McStay has worked a treat and his presence has made quite the difference against the more physical forwards. Rock’s height and size can cause problems but he is deceptively quick too and he’ll look to break ball for Ted Furman.
— John Fogarty
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