No-nonsense Burke focused on winning all he can

St. Thomas’ defender hurler, Fintan Burke, is much off the field like he is on it – no-nonsense.

When it’s suggested to him that some rival clubs in Galway like to undermine his own’s achievement of having won six county titles in the last seven years by pointing out they haven’t won an All-Ireland in that time, he’s not having any of it.

“Nowadays there’s a lot of stuff said that you just have to blank out and just put on your ear-muffs,” says Burke.

“Because opinions are like arseholes, everyone has one. You just have to let it fade into the background and get on with things. Records and all that craic, I’m not too worried about them now at the moment.”

He means that in every sense possible. He closes his ears to those who try to run St. Thomas’ down, and he’s not the type either to glory in what they’ve achieved.

Winning a fifth Galway title in a row is a serious piece of history for a club that draws its team from such a small area, but don’t expect Burke pat himself on the back any time soon.

“I haven’t really thought about it,” he says. “We’d probably be of the opinion that we’ll have enough time when we’re 40 or 50 sitting at a barstool and looking into a pint thinking about how great we were to win five-in-row, but while you’re here you might as well stay going.”

Conor Cooney, captain of St. Thomas lifts the cup after winning the 2022 Galway County Senior Hurling Championship Final Replay match between St Thomas and Loughrea at Pearse Stadium in Galway.

So how does this group of St. Thomas’ players stay going? Many of them have been on the road a long time now yet they come back year after year with their appetite for success apparently undiminished.

“It’s probably because of how tight the group is,” says Burke. “We’ve obviously had a lot of success the last five, six, seven years. But we’ve had a lot of tough days too. Ballyhale in Croke Park, even Ballyhale last year, Borrisoleigh, Ballyea, we’ve had a lot of disappointing defeats that probably brought us together and cemented our friendship as a group.

“In March, April, or May when you’re trying to get back training and you’re looking outside and it’s milling rain and you’re going training for nothing, essentially, for two months, that’s probably the days you draw on those defeats the most.

“Given the success we’ve had we know how good it is to win so it makes getting out there and doing it that small bit easier.

“Obviously there are days when you’d think it’d be easier to pull up the duvet and hide underneath it and just not go. But when we go training with the lads it’s enjoyable, there’s always that bit of craic. And you’d be looking forward to that as much as anything.”

St. Thomas’ desire to defeat Ulster and Antrim champions, Dunloy, this weekend and make it back to their first All-Ireland Final since 2019 is surely heightened by how disappointing that experience was.

Fintan Burke of St Thomas, Galway, pictured ahead of the AIB All-Ireland GAA Hurling Senior Club Championship Semi-Final, which takes place this Sunday, December 18th at Croke Park at 1.30pm. The AIB GAA All-Ireland Club Championships features some of #TheToughest players from communities all across Ireland. It is these very communities that the players represent that make the AIB GAA All-Ireland Club Championships unique. Now in its 32nd year supporting the GAA Club Championships, AIB is extremely proud to once again celebrate the communities that play such a role in sustaining our national games.

They didn’t hurl anywhere near their potential and were beaten on the day by 17 points, while a miserable afternoon for Burke was made much worse by the fact he ruptured his cruciate ligament in that game.

“Obviously if you look at our track record we’ve made a habit of not showing up for All-Ireland semi-finals or that Final,” he says. “I suppose you could make 100 excuses but the buck lies with us.

“I suppose, yeah, we were very disappointed, but I wouldn’t say we use it as a motivation. The biggest motivating factor for a lot of us is that these days won’t be around for ever and we’re not going to be as successful as we are at the moment forever.

“When some of the older lads call it a day we’re probably going to be under pressure numbers wise which is always going to happen. So I suppose it’s just about making hay while the sun shines really.

“There’s different motivating factors for us and one of them would be that a lot of lads in our panel don’t have an All-Ireland medal. Some of the older lads do but I don’t myself and that’s one you’d like to have in your back pocket before you call it a day.

“In fairness lads don’t be shy about telling you. If there’s a row in the hurling field that’s the first thing they’d be telling you, ‘where’s your All-Ireland club medal?’ It would be nice on a personal level for every lad on the panel who doesn’t have one to have one.”

By John Harrington