GALWAY U21 CAPTAIN Fintan Burke never had to look too far for inspiration growing up.
First cousins: Fintan and David Burke.
A first cousin of the Tribesmen senior captain David Burke, he’s followed in his footsteps as he prepares to lead his side into battle in the Bord Gáis Energy GAA Hurling U21 All-Ireland semi-final against Tipperary tomorrow night (throw-in 7.30pm, Gaelic Grounds, live on TG4).
Both from the St Thomas’ club, along with David’s brother Eanna and brothers Conor and Shane Cooney, it’s incredible to think that such a small community has scaled such heights and produced such a special group of hurlers.
It’s no real surprise to Burke though, who carries fond memories of everyone gathering at the pitch for puck around after puck around when they were younger.
St Thomas’ won their first-ever senior county title in 2012 and were then crowned All-Ireland club champions in 2013. Burke was 16 at the time, too young to play but that drove him on more and more.
They won another county senior title in 2016, and he started at corner back. A great feeling to win alongside family and friends, people he had looked up to for so long.
“I suppose we would have been close enough,” he says of his older cousin David, as he rolls back the years.
“He has a good few brothers and you’d nearly be too embarrassed to ask for advice, you’d nearly get laughed at.
“So it was up to you to learn from them without asking. If you saw him going to the pitch, well then straight away you were going to be up to the pitch practicing the same things he was practicing.
David Burke in action.
Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO
“Most of the time when you’re at the pitch practicing yourself or you’re out for a puck and he was there you’d spend as much time watching what he was doing. And then when he left you’d practice what he was doing.
“The same would apply to Conor Cooney or Eanna Burke.”
He adds, of David’s influence on his own game:
“You wouldn’t really think about it too much, but when you would look back on it there’s certain aspects of how you’d play. You’d find yourself playing the same way or even his leadership roles coming up along.
“You wouldn’t necessarily sit down and think about it, but when you look back at your own performances you’d notice small things that he’d do that maybe you’d copying now.”
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Of course, last September David was the man to lift the Liam McCarthy Cup as Galway ended a wait since 1988 to climb the steps of the Hogan Stand.
It came as a massive lift to the county, and it’s continuing to spur them on at all levels this year.
“Everyone is getting behind the lads, especially with the seniors doing so well and the minors in an All-Ireland final now and ourselves coming up. You do notice that there’s a good few even in the county kind of focusing on you.
“It’s alright having it in a good place for a year or two, but there’s no point stepping off the gas now and letting it go down.
Fintan Burke leading the U21 charge.
Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO
“I think it’s very important for us, especially us because we’re coming into it now, to keep it going and try not to get too sucked into all the supporters and everyone getting into the hype. You have to keep your feet on the ground a small bit.
“We’ll just focus on ourselves. If you do that and don’t look at the papers, then it does help a good bit.”
This is the first year that the Galway U21s have contested Leinster before the All-Ireland series, and Burke feels that that’s only a good thing.
Not only does it mean they get a run of games and don’t come into the All-Ireland stages cold, he says, it also gives them more exposure and allows players to throw their hat in the ring to launch a potential senior inter-county career.
“If you’re looking at going into a senior set-up, it gives you a few matches to prove what kind of a hurler you were,” he explains.
“Whereas before, it was do or die. If you don’t perform in one game there was very little chance that you were going to get called in.”
The provincial final was one to remember. Galway looked pretty much dead and buried, trailing by two points with mere seconds left in extra-time, but cometh the hour, cometh the man, as Sean Bleahane rattled the net to break Wexford hearts.
Off the back of that success, they’re in a good place and confident in themselves as they face Tipperary. But the Premier county are coming in from a different perspective.
Lifting their first-ever U21 Leinster crown.
Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO
Beaten by 13 points by Cork in the Munster final, they’ll be hoping they can make amends tomorrow. They know they have a point to prove, and Burke is well aware of that and the room for a major backlash.
“Any team that you’d be involved with, the last thing you want to do is go out and perform poorly. We know even if you look at Tipp when they played Limerick, they beat a very good Limerick team.
“We know that there will be a massive lash back from Tipp. To be fair to them, they couldn’t have hurled any poorer than what they hurled against Cork.
“They’ll have a point to prove against us so we’re going to be prepared for it.”
– Updated 18.34
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