'It was a day to remember:' Kildare hurler scores eight points in Croke Park after surviving meningitis battle

James Burke has made a remarkable comeback to win a Christy Ring Cup after he was diagnosed with bacterial meningitis.

KILDARE’S JAMES BURKE says winning a Christy Ring Cup with his county was a ‘day to remember’ following his harrowing experience with meningitis over the past few months.

Kildare celebrate with the Christy Ring Cup Kildare players celebrating their Christy Ring Cup victory. Source: Tommy Grealy/INPHO

Burke scored eight points for the Lilywhites in their 3-19 to 1-11 victory over London in what was his first starting appearance for the county since the 19-year-old was struck down with bacterial meningitis.

This is Kildare’s second time to win the Christy Ring Cup in five years, but they won’t have long to savour the achievement as they face Antrim next weekend to contest for a place in the Joe McDonagh Cup.

Before contemplating that challenge, Joe Quaid’s charges were treated to a warm reception when they arrived in Naas on Saturday after their winning display in Croke Park.

“It was great, it was a day to remember,” Burke tells The42.

Getting my first championship start in Croke Park after the few months I had and to get the win as well.

“You appreciate it more after the game because during the game your only focus is the ball and nothing else, and getting the win for the team. But afterwards you appreciate it so much and you can soak it all in.

“There was quite a few at the GAA club.

“The hurling community is kind of very small and tight [in Kildare] and you’d know everyone from every different club. That’s good in a way because you kind of have a connection with your supporters as well which is nice to have.”

Burke was diagnosed with Type B bacterial meningitis and spent 12 days in hospital where he was placed in an induced coma.

He lost a stone in weight and missed five weeks of college lectures as a result of the ordeal.

Burke made a gradual return to hurling and subsequently made Christy Ring Cup appearances for Kildare as a substitute against Wicklow and Derry prior to starting the final, and his phone was filled with messages of support throughout his comeback from the illness.

“It’s hopping a bit more than it usually would, especially when I came out of the hospital at first. The amount of texts I had from various different people and people I don’t even know from other clubs were texting me.

“It was brilliant, it just shows what the GAA community is like.”

Burke comes from a dual-sports background and previously played football for the Kildare minors over the last two years.

He declined the opportunity to play with the U20′s team this year in order to prioritise his hurling commitments but isn’t a ruling out a potential return to the team next year.

His parents helped influence his interest in hurling from a young age, along with the coaches that mentored him along the way.

Barry Daly lifts the cup Galway's Barry Daly lifting the All-Ireland U21 title in 2011. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

He also grew up with a neighbour who had experienced All-Ireland success in the small ball game.

One of my neighbours Barry Daly captained the Galway U21′s to an All-Ireland. That family was a big influence and as a child, I was always pucking the ball with them. That really sprung my interest.

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“I found myself over the past few years that football was the priority. I would prefer hurling as a sport and always did as a child growing up. For the past two years I was kind of annoyed that I didn’t get playing as much hurling and obviously then, it’s tough on the body.

“It takes its toll.”

Burke laments the quick turnaround between the Christy Ring Cup final and the battle against Antrim, but stresses that the team are equipped to handle the challenge and get their recovery completed before the showdown at the Athletic Grounds on Saturday.

But the DCU Business student knows that bigger prizes lie ahead.

Competing in the Joe McDonagh Cup essentially provides a gateway into the Leinster championship, where Kildare could potentially get the chance to measure themselves against the strongest hurling sides in the country.

Cathal McCabe and Ryan McCambridge Antrim players battling against Meath in the 2018 Joe McDonagh Cup. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“The work has been done back during the league and the break we had between the league and championship so there’s no real difference to what we have been doing accept for obviously the celebrations, but we’ll still give it a rattle and we won’t be too unprepared.

If we got to the Joe McDonagh Cup it would be great and if you win that you could be playing big teams, and that would be a huge occasion if we could get there in the next few years.

“Especially for younger people, it would give them a bit of belief. A lot of people from my club would be picking football over hurling at a young age. There’s still an imbalance and it’d be great if we could balance it out a bit.”

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