Eanna Burke remains eager to secure further success
By Cian O'Connell
Eanna Burke smiles when 2013 is referenced. The AIB All Ireland Club Championships continues to bring thrilling tales, but few match the spirited manner in which St Thomas flared to prominence.
The hope and, more importantly, belief, that those types of days and occasions would be sampled was what kept hurling so high on the agenda in Kilchreest, Castledaly, and Peterswell.
Families combined to deliver underage success, but when Thomas were given a chance to sample the national stage they were ready, willing, and able.
At that time Burke was the emerging teenager with five brothers - the sons of John, the proud manager, who is on Croke Park duty as Oranmore-Maree’s coach in the Intermediate decider against Charleville on Sunday.
For Eanna Burke, though, his introduction to the senior arena with St Thomas’ was simply all about timing. “I was 17 at the time, fairytale stuff really,” Burke states about sampling glory at GAA headquarters six years ago.
“You'd probably never hear of it again, them days are well gone. When you are 17 you think it is going to happen every year, but then you learn the hard way, that isn't how it is.
“You still have to knuckle down, to get back to work. We are back here again and we will try to learn from the mistakes we made two years ago and take the good from back in 2013, to try to learn to put it right on February 9.”
John and wing back Sean aren’t involved in the current Thomas’ adventure, but Burke is encouraged ahead of Saturday’s Parnell Park tussle against Ruairí Óg, Cushendall acknowledging that the Galway outfit are brimful of desire.
“100% from 2013 to 2016 for us it was maybe a barren spell, we lost a couple of semi-finals in Galway by a point, but we were always there or thereabouts,” Burke says.
“We've won three since 2012, but there probably is a sense of underachievement so there is massive drive in the group to try to put another All Ireland to that. We have the players to do it, we aren't going to be around forever so we have to do it now if we can.”
For a club only formed in 1968 the current generation is a particularly talented crop of hurlers. “That's it, we probably won't have a group of players like this ever again,” Burke admits. “It is off the back of a group of players that won an Under 12 in '02. Since then we have added a player or two every year. Going forward if we add one or two every year that is massive for a club like us.”
Having been involved in two classic encounters against Loughgiel Shamrocks, Thomas’ know all about the threat Antrim club teams carry, highlighting Cushendall’s 2016 success over Sarsfields.
“They beat them three years ago,” Burke recalls. “It was a massive test back in 2013, Loughgiel were All Ireland champions at the time, that is no easy feat. We just about turned them over and they came back the year after and we didn't. That just shows the team they were, they were huge. Cushendall beat Sarsfields, they beat them handy enough that day.
“They obviously came up against Na Piarsaigh, who are one of the best club teams in the country. They are a phenomenal team and what they are doing up there with a small pick, like ourselves, is phenomenal.
“We are under no illusions about the challenge they are going to bring. The workrate and courage they bring, hopefully we can outlast that.”
Burke praises the way in which Kevin Lally has taken over from his father, who was so central to Thomas’ rise. “It was a change, I think he was 10 years over the senior team,” Burke comments. “When you get a fresh voice in it can give lads a new lease of life.
“Like you probably see it with Waterford and Derek McGrath mentioned it that he looks at the players and maybe they are a bit more geed up. A fresh voice is never any harm and Kevin is a super manager, he has great pedigree there behind him. He was with Craughwell and Kilnadeema-Leitrim, we will try to hold on to him for another few years if we can.”
That Thomas returned to the summit of the Galway game and Oranmore attained senior status in the west meant 2018 brought plenty of satisfaction in the Burke household. “Yeah, the sister was going for one too, but they got beaten in the semi-final of the Galway Championship,” Burke laments. “So it was a nice one, I'm sure Oranmore are ready for road.
“He went with Oranmore, it probably is something different for him trying to get up from Intermediate to Senior. We would always have been competing at the latter end of the Championship. He wasn't managing, he was just training Oranmore so that was a new experience for him. I'm sure he is enjoying it.
“They are out against Charleville which is a massive test, but if I know him like I think I do they will have their homework done hoping to bring an All Ireland back to Galway.”
Ultimately, that is the mission St Thomas’ want to accomplish also, but they will treat the Cushendall challenge with the utmost care and respect.