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Dublin: 7 °C Saturday 15 December, 2018

Looking back on a super September for Galway and life since ending the famine

David Burke has been named as the GWA Hurling Personality of the Year.

David Burke lifts the trophy Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

WHEN THE FINAL whistle sounded in Croke Park on the first Sunday in September, the place erupted. The sea of maroon was in full flow.

Galway had finally done it. They’d ended the wait since ’88 and put years and years of hurt to bed.

Their captain David Burke climbed the steps of the Hogan stand shortly after, lifted the Liam MacCarthy Cup and gave a memorable and emotional speech.

Burke has looked back on a few bits and pieces, and different highlights of the final win over Waterford, but is yet to sit down and watch the match in full.

He smiles, and says that hopefully he’ll get the chance to over the next few weeks, but he’s been kept busy with celebrations, school and club visits, media interviews and club action over the past few weeks.

In the aftermath, and more and more as things settle down, he’s been able to appreciate the captaincy that bit more.

“Nothing was going to prepare either the squad or the management for all the goings-on after the match,” he begins. “We never knew what it was going to be like.

“It was busy. I don’t mind going to places. Everyone is rowing in and doing their fair share with the cup. It’s great to bring the cup to young and old people and see the happiness it’s brought to them.

“I’m delighted personally to do it on behalf of the squad after what’s been a great year.”

In the later stages of the year, the 27-year-old drew the ire of the Déise. Before their semi-final, Burke told reporters that he felt Tadhg de Burca’s suspension may benefit Waterford against Cork.

“In actual fact, it might be a blessing in disguise for them,” Burke said in relation to their acting sweeper’s ban.

Kieran Bennett and David Burke Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“It might actually suit them if they go toe-to-toe with Cork. They’d probably beat them. If they sit back, they mightn’t. I don’t think a sweeper is going to win you an All-Ireland. Even when Clare won the All-Ireland, they didn’t really play a sweeper.”

While many journalists appreciated his candour, Galway fans felt that his comments may have been taken out of context — and Burke agrees with the latter.

“Well, it nearly backfired on me now!” he grins.

“When I was doing the interview, I was comparing two teams and everybody took me up wrong. I wasn’t saying Waterford weren’t good enough, I was saying they could still possibly win because they had better individual hurlers and it obviously proved to be that way because Jamie Barron and Austin Gleeson scored two serious goals.

“We played a sweeper against Dublin, one against Offaly and one against Wexford – the only time we didn’t play a sweeper was against Tipperary. And we played a sweeper against Waterford because they were playing one.

“We were better prepared for the Waterford game because of those other games when we played a sweeper and we won the All-Ireland playing with a sweeper and people don’t even know that.”

As the All-Ireland champions bask in the glory, they also have time to reflect on the year that was. And Burke was impressed with his side’s efforts throughout their campaign, sweeper or no sweeper.

“The ability to close out games was something we were really trying to learn and develop as a group of players,” he continues.

“It’s down to maybe the last 10 or 15 minutes, just controlling the emotions and getting the job done. We have seriously quality hurlers but it was just in tight games could we get it done.

David Burke shows the Liam McCarthy Cup to the crowd in Ballinasloe Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“I’m happy with a lot of lads’ development in terms of taking over ownership of the team. We’re just talking on the field during games and stuff like that but obviously you need a bit of class too like Joe’s (Canning) point at the end of the Tipperary game to see things out.”

In the curtain raiser on All-Ireland final day, the minors beat Cork to the title. The minor and senior double is safe and secure in the West, with the two trophies spending the winter months together.

It’s six weeks ago this weekend since that fateful day. September has been and gone, but what a month it was for Galway hurling. Special Congress on last day of the month topped an unforgettable month for the Westerners in the capital.

A new round-robin format is on the way to the hurling championship from 2018, with beneficiary swinging in their direction. Each county will have two home games, and that allows Galway’s long-held ambition to stage Leinster championship encounters at Pearse Stadium to become a reality.

It’s also brought advances for underage sides, with the lack of regular games for their rising hurlers consistently flagged as an area of concern over the past few years.

“You’d be talking about it even in school with other teachers and at home,” Burke said of another stellar September day for Galway in Croke Park. “The chat last week was all about that.

“It’s great from a minor and an U21 perspective and it’s good at senior level as well. There are more games for everyone. This time last year everybody was asking what way do people think about it but it’s about progress and where we want to get to in a few years.

“It’s a trial and error thing. This system mightn’t work but we have to see how it goes. It’s going to be new and counties will have to get themselves ready for it. It’ll be interesting to see how teams respond to it. ”

In terms of playing more regularly in Salthill, it’s something the St Thomas’ midfielder welcomes with open arms.

“It’s great to get home championship games. You could get Kilkenny at home or go to Nowlan Park and it might just bring the crowds up.

“I know people are worried that the knock-out element will be gone but I think you’re still going to get good games. I know we have the league before it but the games in the league this year were good quality ones and I don’t think you’re going to have teams falling back.”

And the fact that all teams will be playing the same number of games in their respective provincial championships is another thing that appeals to the talisman. It will be a welcome ‘test of the squad,’ as he puts it.

“You would have been thinking before like Kilkenny that the best way to go was the direct route because you played less games and it gives lads more of a chance to get or keep their bodies right but I think it’s really going to be a test of the squad.

“You might a game in the first round of Leinster and you might pick up an injury so you have to go with someone different in the next game because it comes so soon after.

“It’s definitely looking well for the whole panel and more players getting action. From that perspective, it’s good for individuals.”

While next year, and taking the next step with Galway towards defending their titles is on Burke’s mind, it’s firmly to the rear.

David Burke celebrates after the game Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

The dust has begun to settle on their huge All-Ireland win, and club matters are in full flow again.

After a drawn league final with Craughwell two weeks ago, there’s a replay in the pipeline for reigning county champions St Thomas’ but first up is a preliminary championship quarter-final against Killimordaly later today.

“It’s good to be back because it’s been hectic the last couple of weeks and it gives you a bit of structure being back playing with the lads,” he responds when asked about switching the focus.

“It’s a balancing act throughout the year because we played club championship games after Leinster championship games so you’re trying to win those games as well and getting to the knock-out stages and we’re there now.

“We’ve a good team there now and there’s a good, old buzz at training and lads are hungry for more. We’re looking forward to the next day.”

David Burke has been named as the Gaelic Writers Association 2017 Hurling Personality of the Year. He was presented with his award at the Jackson Court Hotel last night.

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