Strapping Meath defender Mickey Burke reckons he was “made out to be the baddie”’ after the biting saga that followed the Royals’ last clash with Dublin.
Furious Meath boss Mick O’Dowd told the press after Meath’s 16-point Leinster final loss in 2014 that a “biting incident” had occurred.
O’Dowd was referring to a tangle between Burke and Dublin attacker Eoghan O’Gara that resulted in Burke attending Navan Hospital with a finger injury.
No charges were brought against O’Gara due to a lack of evidence and some claimed afterwards that the Dubliner had actually shown restraint in the face of provocation.
Pictures published of the incident showed Burke holding O’Gara’s jersey with his right hand and making contact with the Dubliner’s face with his left hand.
At the time, Kerry legend and pundit Tomás Ó Sé said: “Eoghan O’Gara did very well not to react. He was down on the ground and got five or six bangs on the head that anybody would have reacted too.”
Burke, 30, will again be a key figure in Meath’s defence on Sunday when they meet Dublin in the Leinster semi-finals and O’Gara could feature at some stage.
“I was made out to be the baddie, a bit,” said Burke. “I don’t want to say too much on it, to be honest. It is what it is and everyone knows what happened, it’s done now.”
Burke said it was “a tough few days” afterwards and praised manager O’Dowd for sticking by him.
“We’d a game to prepare for against Armagh and I have to say Micko was very good to me, he stood by me,” added Burke. “It kind of got you down. It was the first time something like this had happened to me. I got red cards and stuff like that before but it was on every radio station, it was in every paper and Micko was ringing me, ‘just keep calm, keep the head’. He was very, very supportive of me and I appreciated that. But look, we’ve moved on.”
Burke has developed into an important defender for Meath since being called into the senior panel as a teenager by Sean Boylan in the mid-2000s.
His muscular frame, beard, long hair, and heavily tattooed right arm combine to make him an instantly identifiable presence on the pitch.
The Longwood man’s tattoos include a map of Meath around his elbow, some coffee beans, various quotes and the image of his mother.
“I am relatively shy off the field,” said Burke.
“People probably judge you by the way you play, by the way you look and stuff like that. I’ve always had a beard. I suppose the hair’s a bit longer than normal.
“Look, I suppose I’ve always been my own man, a little bit different maybe but my feet are on the ground, I’d like to think.
“I’m a fairly quiet man off the field but a different man on it, I suppose.”
Burke attributes his hulking presence to being naturally large though admitted he may have bulked up a little too much following a horror leg break six years ago.
“After I broke the leg in 2010 I got too big, I got huge,” he said. “That was probably just down to wanting to build my leg up in the gym. I don’t know if it looks it but I have stripped a good bit (of muscle) off me.
“When McGeeney and the boys were playing, the Armagh lads were all huge bodybuilders and now it’s gone a little bit slimmer.
“You even see the way the Dubs are built now, like Bernard Brogan. I think it’s going that way, a little slimmer. Everything goes in cycles. We’ll probably see it again, the boys will get huge again. I’ve always enjoyed the gym.”
Burke admitted he wasn’t sure if he would recover fully from that leg break which occurred in Tullamore in 2010.
“I did the ligaments in the knee, medial ligaments, and the tibia and fibula,” he said. “It was tough, it was lonely, it was nine months off. I didn’t know whether I was going to get back but I really wanted to get back. I love playing for Meath.
“At the start, I remember lying in the bed (in Tullamore hospital) with my gear on me still and Boylan, Sean, he was the first man in to see me. My father or mother didn’t pop up, they were down at the game, they didn’t pop up until an hour or two after!
“Sean was in crying beside me and I was like, ‘Oh, Jesus’. It was shocking. I remember him saying this was the best place. And I just remembering saying, ‘I’m going to give it a lash, I’m going to do whatever I’ve got to do to get back’. I’m all in or all out anyway in everything.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved