‘If you had 21 or 22 like the Burkes, you’d never be beaten’

Sam Hughes, Martin Gannon and Kayla Burke show their hurling skills at St. Thomas GAA pitch in Co Galway.

John Fahey was present at the Convention Centre when David Burke’s name was called out at left corner-forward on the 2012 All Star team.

It was a historic night for St Thomas’ 22-year old Burke the first member of the South Galway club to receive an All Star award. Anthony Cunningham had carried Liam MacCarthy through the parishes of Peterswell and Kilchreest in 1987 and ’88, but was never honoured at the end of year ceremony.

Celebrations at the Convention Centre ran well into the wee hours of Friday night, but at 10am on Saturday David Burke was to be found at the wall ball in the St Thomas’ GAA grounds overseeing an U14 training session.

“That tells you everything you need to know about David Burke,” says Fahey, a native of Kilchreest and former Galway hurling board secretary.

“When you see the career paths that David and Conor [Cooney] are following and that they are able to garner careers in their own locality, David is teaching in St Brigid’s Vocational School up the road in Loughrea and Conor is in the primary school here in Peterswell. That tells its own story.

“Not being flippant, but you needn’t ask a question about the character of the two lads when you see how well they are recognised locally.”

Yesterday was jersey day up at Peterswell primary school and club secretary Enda Mulkerrins says you can’t quantify the worth of seeing Conor out hurling with the young pupils at lunchtime.

“Sure, the morning after they lost the Leinster final to Kilkenny, David was out on the pitch here looking after a summer camp we had organised for the club’s younger members,” recalls club chairman Joe Larkin.

The Burkes are something of an institution around these parts, David’s father John leading the senior team to All-Ireland club glory in 2013. His six sons were present on the Croke Park turf that afternoon, with their sister Deirdre ensuring a clean sweep of All-Ireland medals for the seven siblings in the one year when lining out on the successful Galway intermediate camogie team that September.

“I always maintained if you had 21 or 22 like the Burkes, you’d never be beaten,” says Larkin. “You could ask them to sweep the clubhouse floor and their first response would be ‘where is the brush,” added Mulkerrins.

Adorning the clubhouse walls are the various match reports from their club final win over Kilcormac-Killoughey — ‘St Thomas’ hit the jackpot’, the headline carried by the Connacht Tribune.

The St Patrick’s Day victory arrived less than nine years after their return to senior ranks, a different generation driving the 2004 county intermediate final win.

Holding the inside line alongside Brian Burke and Kevin Cunningham on that afternoon was a 39-year old Anthony Cunningham, one of his final outings in the red and blue.

“He was living away from here from a very young age, but he never forget his roots,” commented Larkin.

Does that explain then why he’s never towed the sideline for St Thomas’? “Not yet,” quips Mulkerrins.

First rising to prominence as a 16-year-old who hit 2-3 in the 1981 All-Ireland minor semi-final against Clare, Cunningham would captain Galway to minor and U21 glory in 1983 and 1986 respectively.

Fahey, as minor boss in ’81, handed Cunningham his first maroon shirt.

“He was excellent as captain. He was a really intelligent young man. He brought that intelligence to his game and his demeanour.

“Anthony was a hurler who didn’t beat tables, who didn’t use foul language. That wasn’t him. He was balanced and composed.

“He was a guy that would cry if he was beaten. I saw that in him from 1977. We were after buying the pitch where St Thomas’ GAA grounds is now. The parish priest gave us a little trophy to play between the three schools. The final was between Peterswell and Castledaly. Anthony was on the Peterswell team. Castledaly won it and it hurt him so much.”

He’s added a steeliness since taking up the bainisteoir’s bib, reckons Larkin and Mulkerrins, their respective phones hoping off the kitchen table with texts and calls for tickets.

“That’s the football for you,” insists the club chairman. “He’s learned from his meetings with Crossmaglen and what they’d be up to.

“He showed that in 2012. He stood up to Cody. Most managers would have walked the other way. He won’t be walking away either on Sunday.”


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