Burns bringing the heat for on-fire Crokes
By Eoghan Tuohey
An ever-present colossus in Munster club football, a central aim of Dr. Crokes’ this year was to exorcise the memories of last season, which saw them relinquish their provincial crown to arch-rivals Nemo Rangers.
They have gone about this mission in a typically comprehensive fashion, putting 5-20 past Cork champions, St. Finbarr’s, in the semi-final, extraordinarily, all from open play.
Accomplished half forward and rising star, Micheál Burns, was satisfied with the performance and pleased to overcome the Rebel champions and banish flashbacks of 2017 to the past.
“Any day you get 5-20 is a good day, especially from play,” said Burns. “It was the day we clicked as a forward line, so hopefully we can bring that on to the Munster Final. It will be important to get as close to that as we can and keep our standards high.”
“That loss to Nemo, it stung big time. It left a sour taste in the mouth. Going back into training this year you could see a big increase in the level of intensity and everything in training was being done better and everyone was more motivated get back to a Munster Final and right that wrong.”
It hasn’t all been plain sailing this year for the Killarney side. They yielded a nine-point lead with ten minutes remaining in the Kerry championship to Kerins O’Rahilly’s and had to go the road less travelled to secure the title.
There are no excuses being offered by Burns, they let the game slip from their grasp, but it’s an experience from which they have learned a great deal, and it will ensure that they remain alert and ruthless until the very end of any match remaining in this campaign.
“It was a game where momentum went one way and then the other way,” said Burns. “Once the momentum went, it was hard to get it back. They just overran us in the end and we couldn’t stop them.
“Once they got on a roll and got a few goals, it was impossible to bring momentum back. I think maybe what happened that day was, we were up 11 points at half time.
“We came out, we kept that lead for most of the second half, we were up nine points, eight points, and we maybe tried to kill the game a bit, we tried to slow the tempo down.
“Then when raised the intensity of the game, we were stuck playing this slow tempo. And we couldn’t get out of it.”
The reaction to that loss early in the season was critical, and determined their future results.
They parked their disappointment, worked hard, and vowed not to let such a lead slip from their grasp again. An attitude that renders them a fearsome proposition for West Clare challengers, St. Joseph’s Milltown Malbay.
“It definitely was a wake-up call,” said Burns. “We had aspirations of winning a county championship and the level of performance we had that day wasn’t going to do that for us.
“For that again, like the Nemo game, you came back into training Tuesday and you think there’ll be a bit of a bad feeling after losing. But everyone was raring to go, everyone was looking forward to getting back at it. It definitely probably gave us a bit of a boost to refocus the minds and to drive it on again.”
On a personal level, Burns believes he has evolved into a more mature, well rounded player that can contribute meaningfully to the team.
It’s a side with great depth. On a team that can afford to leave Colm Cooper on the bench for a Munster club semi-final, one can never be truly secure of a starting spot.
This pressure for places drives exceptional performance. Combined with a harmonious ambiance within the panel, where every participant selflessly pursues glory for the team, they make for an intimidating outfit.
“I suppose I’m just a bit more mature,” said Burns. “I’ve just come on a bit as a player. It’s nothing massive but you have to serve your time and that’s it.
“You’re not just going to jump ahead of fellas who’ve been there and earned the right to play. You have to serve your time. You have to do what you have to do to get on the team. When you’re called upon you have to make an impact and that’s it.”
“Say for Jordi (Jordon Kiely) now. Jordi would have played Kerry minor, would have played on the same team as me growing up, he would have been the main man on the team. Now all of a sudden he’s struggling to get into the starting team.
“But he comes in, he gets 1-1 against the ‘Barrs at the weekend. That kind of impact is invaluable to a team. That kind of strength in depth off the bench, you can’t comprehend how much that affects the outcome of games.
“When your bodies are tired and decisions are being made on the ball, a fresh mind, a fresh body coming into a game like that with the talent on top of that, that we have on the bench is what’s getting us over the line.”
Burns made the breakthrough on the county side last year and is keen to continue to develop and jostle for his position on the biggest stage.
He is in no doubt that exposure to such a level of football has advanced his own game, and yet, such is the standard within the club, that their own training is only marginally below that of the county side.
The prolific attacker is also looking forward to working with new manager, Peter Keane, and is more than satisfied with his ratification.
“Being exposed to that level of football is obviously going to improve you as a better player,” said Burns.
“But you play with the likes of Colm, Eoin Brosnan and Kieran O’Leary, these kind of players. When you’re playing with them with your club, it’s a fairly high level anyway. I’m definitely not losing anything being away from Kerry at the moment!
“Peter’s record speaks for itself with three minor wins. That’s unbelievable. He had success with his own club in Cahirciveen. He had a bit of success with the Legion, they got to the county final. So it’s a very exciting time.
“Tommy Griffin was with Pobalscoil Chorca Dhuibhne. They had massive success there, they won two Hogan Cups. He obviously knows a lot of the younger players as well, he was involved in the minor team as well. So it’s a very exciting time to be involved.”
Focusing on this weekend’s Munster final, Burns is at pains to stress the tricky assignments that Clare opposition have presented in the past. They can only focus on their own game, and respond accordingly to whatever set up the Banner representatives’ display.
“At club level, it’s been very competitive,” said Burns. “We’ve had some tough games with Clare opposition.
“Kilmurry-Ibrickane have given us good games over the years, in their own place. They’re always good, they always turn up, and they’re always good sides. They’re strong, athletic and I don’t think it will be an easy task at all. They’re going to come to win the game and I’m sure they’ll give it all they have.”
“We have our way of playing and they’ll have their way of playing. We’ll both come and we’ll see how it goes. We’ve played defensive teams in the past. If they want to come and play defensive, that’s purely within their right. We’ll have to deal with that on the day.
“Slaughtneil were defensive. You just have to be patient and you’ll break them down. If it’s not happening for you, you can’t get frustrated because with all these blanket defences, opposition are looking to frustrate you.
“You’ll start making silly errors and kicking the ball in when maybe it shouldn’t be kicked in. They’ll catch you on the break then. Like I say, once that momentum goes then, it’s hard to get back.”
Crokes will know how easy it is to become complacent and let a lead slip in the blink of an eye.
They will be strong favourites to reclaim their Munster crown going into Sunday’s fixture, but are unlikely to have it all their own way, facing a dogged and stubborn west Clare outfit who will have been biding their time to have a crack at the aristocrats of Munster club football.