'I wasn't myself... I look back and say, 'God, what would have happened if I didn't go back?''

Football has given Sinead Burke so much. Ahead of her first outing as a player in Croke Park, the Galway stalwart looks back to when she nearly threw it all away.

Galway star Sinéad Burke.
Galway star Sinéad Burke.
Image: Bryan Keane/INPHO

AFTER YEARS OF near misses and falling at the final hurdle, Sinead Burke will finally see a longtime dream come true this weekend. 

The Galway star, who made her senior inter-county debut in 2007, will finally grace the hallowed turf of Croke Park as her Tribe side face Mayo in their All-Ireland semi-final showdown.

With either Cork or Dublin lifting the Brendan Martin Cup at HQ every year since Galway last did so in 2004, this Sunday, the semi-finals will be played there for the very first time. Over the past few seasons, the biggest stage in Gaelic games has hosted some league double-headers, but Burke’s Galway have never made the cut.

The bare mention of Sunday, and the smile across her smile says it all. 

To have any semi-final to look forward to is huge, but the fact that it’s in Croke Park is definitely the cherry on top.

“It’s brilliant,” the 2018 All-Star tells The42.

“We’re trying not to think too much about it because at the end of the day, it’s only a venue. But I mean, who doesn’t want to play in Croke Park?

It’s going to be my first time playing in Croke Park and I’ve been playing for quite a long time,” she laughs. “It’s going to be something special to me and you’d hope that you do get another opportunity to play in Croke Park again, but it’s great.

“It’s so good for the game. I’ve had little girls in Oughterard saying, ‘We’re going to get a bus up and make a big day out of it.’ It’s just little things like that; it’s on the big stage, everyone wants to go.

“It just makes such a big difference. Especially with it being a double-header as well; even for outsiders just wanting to go and watch two good games. It will definitely be worth it.”


Burke was speaking at the launch of the Lidl #SeriousSupport Schools Programme earlier today, an initiative which will see her — one of 10 athlete mentors who are current or former elite level footballers — partner with schools on these shores, and help encourage teenage girls to stay in sport.

With inspiring stories to share, full of ups and downs, Burke takes a look back through her own journey; the good days and the bad, the near misses, the what-ifs and the maybes. But one thing’s for sure; she can never be thankful enough for sport. And for what ladies football has given her.

#SeriousSupport Schools Programme launch Burke (right) and Dublin's Carla Rowe at today's #SeriousSupport Schools Programme launch. Source: David Fitzgerald/SPORTSFILE

Research undertaken by Lidl shows that by the age of 13, one in two girls drop out of sport, and girls are three times more likely to give up sport than boys. 

Looking back to her own teenage years, Burke could have been the opposite one of that one in two; one of those girls to call it quits and never go back. 

“I think I took a year, or a year-and-a-half of not playing,” the Dublin-based primary school teacher remembers.

“Friends, family, school; there were certain things… I didn’t want to play football really any more and I said, ‘I’ll just take a break and see’. I knew as the year went on I was missing out. I missed the craic, I missed the fun, I wasn’t myself really.

As soon as I went back playing, it all made sense again. I’m so glad I did keep playing because I look back and I say, ‘God, what would have happened if I didn’t go back that year, or never played sport’.

“I’ve made lifelong friends, I’ve learned life lessons, I’ve had great experiences and I’ve travelled the world with sport.”

While Burke says she realised herself she was missing out, it ultimately took a push from elsewhere to get her back on board. 

It often just takes that quiet word in the ear. That gentle push on the back.

“It was a girl actually who I looked up to in school,” she grins, looking back. “She was playing international soccer at the time, and she was with the senior ladies.

“She just kind of came up to me and said, ‘Why aren’t you training? Come back down training.’ I looked up to her at the time and it was such a big step.

I look back and I’m so thankful that she did take the time out of her day to just say, ‘Come on back playing,’ just in passing. It meant so much and made such a difference for me at the time. I’m forever grateful that I’m here now, still playing.”

So ultimately she can thank that small act for where she finds herself today.

Sinéad Aherne and Sinead Burke Facing Dublin last April. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

And Burke, who plays her club football with Ballyboden St Enda’s, hopes she can do the same for another teenager struggling with those factors that influence dropout rates.

“Maybe my story might make a little difference to one of the girls and anything I could help them with, I’m just looking forward to doing that,” she adds, relishing her role on the programme.

“If I look back, a mentor or a role model like the girls here coming into my school, that might have helped me. Now, I could be an impact on one of the girls’ lives that just decided to stop playing. I could influence them to go back and give it a go again.”


With her senior inter-county career now in double figures, walking out in Croke Park on Sunday will surely come as a definite high-point. A special moment which will make all the near misses, the what-ifs, the maybes, the doubts and the bad days worth it. 

But Burke is well aware that it’s about much more than playing in Croke Park; it’s about performing there.

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She takes inspiration from the county’s brilliant All-Ireland semi-final camogie win over Cork on Saturday night, as the Tribeswomen brought the curtain down on their opposition’s dream of three in-a-row and reached the promised land of Croke Park once again themselves. 

“I’d be quite friendly with one of the girls on the camogie team and she was saying, ‘Just make sure you get to it too!’ It’s great, there’s a great buzz around.

Everyone’s kind of saying, ‘Oh you’re going well, you’re going well…’ but it’s that final hurdle. We don’t want to slip at the final hurdle. We want to go all the way. It’s just about a good performance. 

“It’s a great feeling to be in a semi-final, but unfortunately Galway’s track record in semi-finals over the last couple of years hasn’t been great. We’re looking to change that and we’re looking to get a good performance against Mayo, and hopefully come out the better side of it.”

They will hope to use the hurt of past defeats to get back the biggest day in the ladies football calendar, but of course, the side standing in their way will drive them on more and more too.

Sinead Burke and Eimear Kiely Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

The Western rivals have locked horns plenty of times over the past few years, their most recent clashes coming in this summer’s Connacht championship. A replay was required to decide the straight final after a titanic tussle the first day out but on second asking, Tim Rabbitt’s Tribe came out on top.

It’s going to be a tasty one on Sunday, that’s for sure.

Everyone that says it is looking forward to it,” she agrees. “We know Mayo and they know us very well. It’s going to be tough, we’re under no illusions.

“We have seen Mayo progress over the last couple of games. It’s just a matter of us playing our game and hopefully it will go to plan.

“Our games will stand to us; it’s been good. We’re looking for that whole complete performance. There’s been stages of it and we’ve been showing glimpses, but let’s just hope it will all come to the forefront at Croke Park the next day.”

“Everyone’s in a good place and ready to go,” she concludes, adding how she hopes her side can reward ‘professional’ Rabbitt and his excellent management team who have put so much time, effort and belief into the cause.

Training’s going well and there’s a good buzz around. Everyone’s just looking forward to getting to Sunday right now, these few days are going to be the hardest.

“It’s just getting to Sunday and hopefully putting everything together that we’ve been working on over the last few weeks and months.”

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Emma Duffy

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