Ian Burke seeks to end landmark year on a high
By Eoghan Tuohey
The traditional Connacht giants, Mayo and Galway, face off once again in a provincial decider this Sunday, with reigning All-Ireland champions Corofin pitted against gutsy Mayo representatives, Ballintubber, in the AIB Connacht Club SFC Final.
Corofin are seeking their third All-Ireland title since 2014, and their third Connacht title on the bounce.
Their form, bar the drawn county final against a stubborn and resilient Mountbellew-Moylough side, has been devastatingly destructive, swatting aside the challenge of Roscommon champions Clann na nGael with ease in the semi-final.
Ballintubber have overcome the Sligo and Leitrim champions, Tourlestrane and Aughawillan respectively, and though they assume the underdog mantle heading into this tie, they will be quietly confident of causing an upset.
Corofin are boosted by the return of the Burke cousins, Daithí from a trip with the hurlers to Australia, and All-Star corner forward for 2018, Ian, who returns from a rib injury. The formidable attacker is relishing these glory days for Corofin, remembering a lean period when they were not so dominant.
“It’s brilliant to have the two (provincial titles in a row)," said Burke. "It’s the stuff you dream about as a young lad. We’re focused on the next game, Ballintubber is where our full focus is at the moment. It’d be amazing to win another Connacht.”
“Yeah for sure we do (savour these victories). There were a couple of years there where Castlebar had the upper hand on us and even St. Brigid’s, going back a bit further for the older brigade.
“But, look, we only focus on ourselves and try to be the best that we can be, and adapt our game plan to each team that we play. We’ve been pretty good at doing that, of late. We’re under no illusions as to what to expect, we’re delighted to be here and to represent Galway.”
The last time these sides faced off in a provincial decider was 2014, when Corofin were nine-point victors and then went on from there to win the All-Ireland title.
“That was our first year where we won Connacht in a few years, it was first one so it was special,” said Burke.
“They’d have similar players to what they had then, but they’re battle-hardened now, they’ve had a lot of big games within Mayo, against the likes of Castlebar and that.
“But, yeah, they’re a brilliant team and we know we have a big challenge ahead of us.”
Corofin are a very offensive-minded team with an array of attacking weapons in their forward line.
For most teams, taking them on in an open game of end to end football is to invitation to disaster, so instead they focus on keeping things tight at the back and hitting Corofin on the counter.
That ploy very nearly worked for Mountbellew-Moylough in the drawn Galway SFC Final, and Burke knows tightly packed defences are something this Corofin team will have to get used to.
“They’re interesting, those systems,” he said. “Like, it’s hard to break them down, yeah, but it’s interesting trying to figure them out. There’s always little pockets you can find.
“It was tough, but a good challenge for an inside forward to come up against and try to adapt your game. Not every game is the same, it’s good to learn.”
It’s no surprise to hear that Burke relishes the challenge of breaking down massed defences because his ability to drift into pockets of space and then finish clinically is his trademark.
He’s been a scoring machine for Corofin for a few years now but this year he really came of age as an inter-county footballer too with Galway, finishing the season with an All-Star award.
“I think I went in the year before, but it takes a while to come up to speed with inter-county football and learn all that goes along with it,” said Burke.
“It was a learning curve for me, and I used a lot of that through Corofin and then, when I went back in with Galway, it was just a matter of trying to get to the level I was at, the previous year.
“The lads help you out any way they can, I think they both contribute each other well, playing with Galway and Corofin, you develop different attributes and different skillsets with both sides. It’s good to merge the two.”
It’s been an landmark year for Burke with both club and county, and he’s not finished yet.