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The last six weeks have been fairly hectic for Elaine Burke but this one is the most manic yet writes Daragh Ó Conchúir. Burke – Cork’s All-Ireland winning captain in 2005 – ended two years in London when returning to her native city last month to take up a job as Legal Counsel at the corporate headquarters of PCH International.
That role involves a lot of travelling though, and this week, Burke is spending a few days at the company’s operational headquarters in Shenzhen, China. She returns late Thursday night and will tog out on Saturday for London’s Tara Camogie Club in the final part of a three-day Gathering “Let’s Play Ball & Have a Ball’ extravaganza.
Tara will be joined by outfits representing Toronto, North America, Croydon (London) and Fullen Gaels (Manchester), while players from Seattle will also join forces with Dublin clubs Na Fianna, Ballyboden St Enda’s, St Vincent’s, Trinity Gaels and St Brigid’s. Burke will miss out on the Camogie Gathering Cup and Shield tournaments at Croke Park on Friday evening but will make it to Na Fianna on Saturday for an international tournament. She is looking forward to what she sees as a very worthwhile and commendable initiative.
“It will be brilliant. I’m not sure if they’re travelling but we have some girls that were born in England of Irish parents playing for us and it would be brilliant for them. I would love another run out in Croke Park myself! I think it’s a nice opportunity. When you’re playing over there, it seems a million miles away but it’s nice to recognise that there’s a lot of teams playing abroad representing the Camogie Association.”
It is funny the way it has all worked out for Burke. During her first year in England, she was playing with Valley Rovers and here she is back in Ireland, playing with Tara. More about that anon. First, it makes sense to put some context on Burke’s decision to cross the Irish Sea in 2011.
“It was by choice. I wanted to make the move from being a solicitor in a private practice to working in-house as a lawyer and there aren’t that many opportunities in Ireland. There was much more opportunity in London.”
It was a carefully planned strategic move rather than one that was forced upon her by the economy. Having said that, the circumstances of her job meant the move was necessary.
Saying there are plenty of Irish people in London is like standing up in a symposium of university professors to declare that you tend to find sand and water on a beach. What’s more, it has always been the case.That representation has increased in recent years but Burke reckons that it’s wrong to pin it all on the country’s downturn/meltdown.
“I’m not sure. A lot of the girls probably would get work back here but there’s better opportunities in London. Or maybe they decide when they finish university to go over for three months or six months and stay longer. I haven’t met too many that have come over after losing their jobs. I think a lot of the younger people in the club are in university here or came over to go to university or just feel they will have better opportunities there.”
Burke won three senior All-Irelands in the course of her senior inter-county camogie career but the obvious highlight was leading her colleagues up the Hogan Stand steps in 2005 to be presented with the O’Duffy Cup. She is thankful to her club Valley Rovers (the home of former GAA president, Con Murphy), and to her divisional side Carrigdhoun, whose success in the 2004 county final and nomination of her to be Cork captain made it all possible.
“It was a great opportunity and it was brilliant. A once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing. We had a great celebration and it was great to bring the trophy back to the club. It’s great to see members of Valley Rovers playing at all levels for the county now.”
The previous week, Seán Óg Ó hAilpín had shouted “Rebels abú” during his iconic speech after Cork’s hurlers had claimed their second All-Ireland in a row. So Burke’s “Rebels abú arís” was a clever response and a neat encapsulation of the Leesiders’ dominance of all things camán and sliotar at that time.
“I think Seán Óg coined that one for me. I don’t know if there are any royalties due but Seán Óg isn’t getting anything yet!” jokes someone who knows all about the legal implications of copyright. She bagged her third All-Ireland the following year before retiring from all grades after Cork’s loss to Wexford in the 2007 decider. It wasn’t the end though.
“Just before before I moved over to London, my niece – who is now 19 but was 16 or 17 then – I wanted to have the opportunity to play with her for a year, so I went back with Valley Rovers. We got to the county semi-final. I had just moved to England so I was travelling over and back to finish off the season.
“Then when I went over, a friend of mine from college, Angela Kenneally, who is from Kilkenny and who I played Ashbourne with (she won it twice with UCC), got in touch and asked if I’d be interested in joining Tara, who geographically, were the closest to where I was living. 
“So I joined them. I knew Bridget Grennan, who I’d played against when she was in WIT. And there were a couple of other girls I’d known from inter-county, like Denise Gilligan who used to play with Galway (and scored two goals when the westerners won their only All-Ireland in 1996). So that made it easier.”
Burke has an interesting take on the experience of playing with a team of exiles and recommends it as a means of helping the process of integration into a new world. “I’m a bit older so I would have known people over there, had some friends and family over there. But it did help to be fair. I think for girls in their early 20s, it’s great. It’s a ready-made social life and ready-made group of friends. They were very good to me. The team really looks out for each other and it is nice to be involved.
“It’s very different in that it’s a club run by the players. The players are the committee. There’s no parents, no real older people. Last year, I would have been secretary before I left. Bridget Grennan (is now secretary), Angela Kenneally (is chairman), Sheila Fernandes, who has done everything at the club.”
She was vice-captain last year as they won the UK Championship and reached the All-Ireland semi-final. She appreciates what they were doing and having enjoyed her brief time with them, remains fiercely loyal. That’s why this weekend is unlikely to be her swansong in Tara colours.
“I’m not sure. I’m still a member. I will be travelling to London for a bit so that might coincide with some matches. It will be a reverse of what I was doing when I moved over to London and was seeing out the season with Valley Rovers and Carrigdhoun. So I might as well finish the season with Tara.”
Pictured: Elaine Burke, ahead of the Cork Camogie Press night in 2005

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