The Advanced Mark-Part 2 Mark Burke

Back 22/01/2021 @ 15:51 | mainnews | The Advanced Mark-Part 2 Mark Burke
By Anna Bradley
Sligo GAA Youth PR Committee
One of the most important things in life, and more importantly in sport, is a positive attitude. On the brink of turning forty, one of Sligo’s longest serving hurlers, Mark Burke, has not lost any of his positivity for sport. In these strange times and when talking pre-Christmas, Mark was just thankful that he could get out “to play a bit of golf, anyway.” His priorities are obviously in order.
This county player, previous outfielder, latterly goalkeeper, can still enthuse about the game that has been such a feature of his life. You might think that after twenty-one seasons playing for Sligo, the Tubbercurry man’s interest in sport would be waning. Apparently not. Just like all good training programmes, Mark’s enthusiasm for hurling started at the very beginning.
The spark for Mark’s interest in hurling came from his father, Mick, who was originally from Tipperary. Apparently, the Premier County produced the goods as Mark’s father, after moving to Sligo, hurled for Connacht and hooked his children and, one might say, got his children hooked. “If your parents are from a hurling stronghold, it’s in your blood I guess to try to play a bit of hurling,” admitted Mark.
Mark and his brother Jarlath hurled their way through underage for Sligo until Mark broke onto the senior team in 1999, during his Leaving Cert year. Although his first season consisted of National Hurling League games, the second season saw him start in the championship line-up. And he has continued to do so since then.
Previously regarded as a dominating centre-back, in the last few years he has traded the outfield positions for the place between the posts. Goalkeeping is “easier on the body” apparently. “The body is telling me to stop now at this stage,” Mark confessed. So, he has done what any sane person would do when their body is needing a bit more care. Willingly become a target at which men fire a small, hard ball. That should not take such a toll on the old joints.
“At this stage, it’s more the body that’s telling me to stop rather than the age on the birth cert.” Twenty years of playing intercounty and club hurling, club football, soccer, and a bit of golf can tend to do that.
Still, changes in position and twenty plus years of hurling has not changed this man’s interest in the game. However, one thing that has changed, according to Mark, is the skill level of players coming up. “They’re way ahead of where we were at that age twenty years ago […] young players coming up now, their skill level would be a lot better than my age group.”
However, their youth and skill do not appear to daunt this Sligo man.
When coming up against younger men who want to slice through him with a sliotar, Mark voluntarily throws himself in front of them. His commitment has paid off, as Sligo has won the Nickey Rackard Cup in 2008 and 2019, with Mark playing centre-back in 2008 and as a goalkeeper in 2019. In between that, he served time as a selector on the management team of Darragh Cox and Dáithi Hand that won the Lory Meagher Cup in Croke Park in 2018, sparking the current hurling revival in the county. Not content to just assist off the pitch in the final, he actually came in at full-back in the closing minutes to see out a narrow win for the Yeats men.
His positive attitude can be seen in his recalling a negative moment on the pitch. In the 2019 Nickey Rackard final against Armagh, Mark recalls, “I made a bad mistake for one of the goals, in the first half. So that was a big point and you can feel bad in yourself, but at the end of the day you still have a match to play and just try to forget about it and move on to the next ball.” That is exactly what he did, making some vital stops and telling puckouts in the second half as the team went on to win by a single point.
“It was always great to joke about when you have the win at the end of the day, but if things went the other way, I’m sure it would have stung for a long time.” Of course, that mistake “wasn’t forgotten about by some of the lads.” Rest assured Mark, it never will be either.
However, even though intercounty victories are nice, for Mark “it always goes back to the club.” Winning county championships with friends are what stay with him. “Some of these victories will stay as long in the memory as any of those county days.”
Mark’s dedication to and enjoyment playing with his clubmates is apparent in how he speaks of them. He joined the senior men in the late nineties, halfway through their winning streak of ten-in-a-row county championships. (He managed to casually just slip these stats into the conversation.)
Sadly, Tubbercurry, these ten-in-a-row champions, have been tamed. “With the club unfortunately, Tubbercurry haven’t had a senior team in the last number of years. So that would be a low point.” Like many hurling clubs in a football-dominated county, they are suffering from a lack of numbers.
Though, this has not stopped Mark playing the game he loves.
“I’m hurling with another club in south Sligo, Tourlestrane, for the last few years.” There was a slight disbelieving laugh when he admitted that he had to play for a different club. Is that regret? Certainly not from Mark ‘The Positive’ Burke.
The fact that Mark is continuing to hurl shows his sheer love for the game. When he steps out to play for Sligo, he also represents Tubbercurry. That is the black and white of it.
Of course, it is not just hurling that Mark can play. The Tubbercurry local has represented his club in Gaelic football for over twenty years also, helping the club to championship success in 2014, before stepping back.
It has to be handed to Burke though. Swimming in sporting success does not seem to have gone to his head. Even if his club did win ten-in-a-row and “would have the most senior titles” in Sligo.
However, the physical prowess of sports evidently is not the only place where Mark’s talents lie. 2017 saw the tactical abilities of the Sligo man get international recognition, when he ranked number one in the world for fantasy league football. As Mark explained, ranking number one certainly earned him a “bit of notoriety” within the locality.
And it went farther when former team-mate Darragh Cox, then working in local media, encouraged him to do an interview for the local paper. And local radio. And Radio One.
The weight of all this international, intercounty, and club success has not seemed to slow this athlete down. He still hurls and plays golf, though no longer playing three matches at weekends, like he did regularly over the last twenty years. There is obviously a strong engine there. Engines like that do not just splutter and stop. It is bound to have a few years left in it yet. His interest in sport still burns even if the playing time needs to be rationed.
Throughout our conversation, Mark was relaxed and easy to chat to. During this crazy time, you might be wondering how Mark stays so relaxed. In fact, you might be asking what Mark does when there are no sports to be played. Between club, county, football, hurling, soccer, golf, fantasy football, and who knows what else, are there any hours to himself? Fear not. Mark fills his spare time with a job as a paralegal. “I went to college in Galway for five years. Enjoyed that immensely, Galway’s a great city.” But what does he get for all of that work? No holidays over Christmas, he tells me. “but we were not too busy.” They say that crime never sleeps. Apparently neither does Mark Burke.
How does the saying go: your mind will quit one hundred times before your body will? Apparently, Mark’s mind is just as sharp and as positive as ever, and the engine is still running.