By Damian Dolan
Cork hurling star Killian Burke is relishing the challenge of being involved with London, and has immediately set his sights on winning the Christy Ring this year.
Burke made his debut for the Exiles at half back in Sunday’s 2-12 to 1-10 defeat to Westmeath in Division 2A. The Cork defender lined out at McGovern Park, Ruislip, while his former Cork teammates were in action against Waterford in Division 1A at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
He qualified to play for London 24 hours earlier by lining out in a senior football championship preliminary game between Kingdom Kerry Gaels and North London Shamrocks in the inauspicious surroundings of the Scrubs.
But the Midleton man, who has transferred to London club side Robert Emmetts after accepting a work opportunity to move to the city, has no regrets about swapping Liam MacCarthy aspirations for Christy Ring ambitions.
“It’s a different challenge,” Burke told the Irish World. “You’re playing against a lot of teams I’ve never played against before, so a lot of opponents I’m not as familiar with, but the goal is still the same.
“Liam MacCarthy or Christy Ring, the goal is to win that competition. My aspiration with London is to win the Christy Ring this year.
“I’ve been following London since I knew I was coming over and they’ve had a couple of tough games in the league. The game against Carlow was extremely competitive until London had a man sent off, otherwise I think they could have got something out of that game.”
Burke admits that Cork’s achievement last year didn’t make the decision to move any easier, with the Rebels drawing plaudits from all and sundry as they lifted Munster with their exciting brand of play.
“Because we did so well last year that did make the decision harder, but I had my mind made up and I had put a lot of thought into it,” he said.
“It was a very difficult decision and it wasn’t one that I made hastily. I spent a lot of time thinking about it, but it just felt right to do it this year.
“There was a change of management with John Meyler taking over [from Kieran Kingston], but that didn’t impact on my decision at all. I’d have massive time for John.”
Burke is no stranger to London. Stratford in East London has been home to his girlfriend, a professional dancer, for the past five years, and Burke making regular trips back and forth.
Burke had been working in Cork for DePuy Synthes, part of the Medical Devices group of Johnson & Johnson. But when an opportunity arose last year to relocate to London, it was ultimately one he couldn’t turn down.
Burke informed Meyler in November that he would not be returning, after initially being named on the Cork panel for 2018.
“Cork were great to me. John was very supportive of my decision,” he said.
2017 was Burke’s fourth year on the Cork senior panel, and he says it was ‘probably the year I enjoyed the most’.
He added: “A lot of younger lads came on to the panel and done extremely well. We went on an unbelievable run in Munster, and also had a good league campaign before that.
“We just came up a little bit short in the All Ireland semi-final, but hopefully that team can kick on. They’ve had some good results early in the season.”
Burke puts it down to ‘word of mouth’ how his relocating to London reached the ears of fellow Corkman, and Robert Emmetts secretary and head of recruitment, Mick O’Dea.
“Mick was heavily in contact with me before Christmas giving me the lowdown on the club,” said Burke.
“He’s a very positive person and he explained that there were already a number of Corkmen on the Emmetts team, so I agreed to join up.”
When he met up with O’Dea, Burke then made known his interest in joining up with the London squad ‘if there was an opportunity for that to happen’.
Within a day or two he was speaking with Exiles manager, and fellow Robert Emmetts clubman, Fergus McMahon and two nights later he was out at training with his new London teammates.
As to just how long he sees himself pulling on an Exiles jersey, he says he’ll ‘see how it goes’.
“If I like it I’ll potentially stay. My girlfriend’s career is centred over here – there’s not much in Ireland in that kind of area – while London is certainly the pinnacle,” he said.
“The long-term goal may be to go back and link up with Cork hopefully in the long run, but for the time being I’m very happy to be involved with Robert Emmetts and London.”
Burke admits to never previously having any ‘exposure’ to the GAA scene in London, but having met up with his new London for the first time last week, and got his first look at McGovern Park, he’s been impressed by what he’s seen so far.
“I was really impressed with the facilities over here and the passion that there is for the GAA,” he said.
“It’s very professional; Fergus [McMahon] and all of the coaches and selectors have been very impressive and the training has been top notch.”