MEATH HAVE HAD their critics this year, following their struggles in the league, but Mickey Burke is accustomed to such obstacles at this stage.
Indeed, the player sounds grateful to be even playing these days, having endured a lengthy injury layoff in 2010 following an innocuous collision in a game against Laois.
“I did medial ligaments in my knee,” he recalls. “Ah sure, that was a dark place at the time. I didn’t know whether I was ever going to get back playing. You’d probably get back playing sport, but I remember lying on the bed down in Tullamore, lying in my Meath kit because I couldn’t get togged down.
“I hoped I’d get another chance to get back, and got back for the game here in Navan last year against Kildare. It was a long road.”
He continues: “They definitely said your season is over, 100 percent. That was June 2010, it took me until it was probably June ’11, when we played Kildare, by the time I was back motoring pretty good. So it was a long road.”
Having recovered from his injury, Burke was initially left off the Meath panel last year. Although at the time, it seemed like a setback, Burke now feels it may have been a blessing in disguise.
“I was left off after the National League, and maybe it was the best thing to happen me. I went back, enjoyed my club football, kept in contact with the lads, and Seamus (McEnaney) called me back in again for what would have been the Galway game in Navan here, and played the Kildare game then.”
Consequently, Burke’s return to the side was an opportunity that there was never any chance of him taking lightly.
“I’m not the greatest footballer ever to play for Meath,” he admits. “But you’re proud to put on the jersey any time you’re given it. And go out and do your absolute best and try and be smart on the field.”
The obvious passion Burke has for Meath was, no doubt, instilled in him by his father, who also played for Meath.
“I don’t know how much he played, but the one thing he does boast about is he’s the only Meath man to ever play minor and senior championship on the one day. That’s what he does say. He was goalie, I think, for the minors and the sub goalie for the seniors got injured or was sick, and he played on the same day.”
Burke’s passion for putting on the Meath colours would surely have been rocked earlier this year though, after the side encountered considerable criticism following an indifferent league campaign – criticism which, Burke admits, the team were acutely aware of.
“Ah, we had a fierce bad league. Meath is a very passionate football county and the pressure was definitely on. We were fierce nervous going into that (Wicklow) game, there’s no doubt, after the league. But just happy the way it’s working out at the moment.”
And Burke believes their recovery was helped by two key appointments to their backroom staff: John Evans and Trevor Giles.
“[John is] a fierce passionate man. A Kerryman, of course. Maybe he’s just tried to bring back a few of our old values – maybe kicking and stuff like that. He’s brought a new face to training, and Trevor’s come in as well and given us a dig-out. John has definitely freshened things up a bit, I’d say.”
He continues: “Trevor is just one of the best footballers ever to come out of Meath. When he talks, you kind of listen. A few shooting drills and just having a chat with the forwards – sure you’d be hooking onto every word Trevor says really.”
And given that Meath have proved their doubters wrong already this season, does he believe they can do so again in the most spectacular manner so far – by beating Dublin in the Leinster SFC final on Sunday?
“Ah sure it’s going to be a monstrous challenge … a massive challenge. All-Ireland champions. Probably ahead of almost everyone in physical conditioning. We’ll just go out and try and perform, try and give everything we have.
“I didn’t watch [the Wexford match] on the Sunday Game or anything, but we stayed for whatever we saw of the first half. Wexford are a fierce hard team to play against; real good defensively, and hold onto the ball really well; and they just seem to be Dublin’s bogey team. But Dublin are fierce impressive, so we’ll be under pressure.”
Read: Boylan: ‘I always said, there is a certain madness in Meath football. You can’t take that out of us.’>