In these dark and depressing times we could all do with a bit of a boost; a bit of positivity, and dare I say it, a bit of hope.
A half an hour or so in the company of — albeit on the phone — Davy Burke would certainly give anyone a lift.
His enthusiasm, his energy, his belief, his positivity, it is all so refreshing.
No surprise in all that of course.
Anyone who knows Davy knows what you get; no holds barred; full on, all in, calls it as he sees it.
And in fairness — no agenda.
We first bumped into Davy when he managed his native club, Confey back some four or five years ago.
Even then, and remember he was still in his 20s, one could see he had something that bit special.
Not special enough though that we thought he was going to lead Confey to a Leinster Leader Cup title in 2016 (defeated Athy 1-8 to 0-8); lead Kildare U20s to a Leinster and All-Ireland title in 2018; going on the lead Sarsfields to a senior championship in 2019 before being offered and taking up the opportunity to break into the county scene, when appointed Wicklow senior football manager in 2020, one of the youngest, if not thee youngest inter-county manager around.
No disrespect to Confey but winning a senior league (Division 1) still stands as one hell of an achievement and it was that achievement that first alerted folk that maybe, possibly, this lad had something to offer.
Anywhere Davy Burke has been players that he has had under his wing all agree that it is the relationship he builds up with individual lads that sets him apart.
When we spoke recently he emphasised the need to build up that relationship — and instantly at that — the need to get players to believe in what he believes in; to buy into what he brings to the table and that is regardless whether it is at club or county level.
Another vital ingredient in the Confey man's mindset is getting the right people around him.
With the U20s he had Declan O'Toole and Evan McDermott at his side, two lads he holds in high regard; and when he joined Sarsfields, and remember he was walking into a club that the only people he knew were a few of the U20 lads he had with Kildare “but these were just 18 and 19, just chaps really” so getting the right people is absolutely vital.
“I was very lucky in Sarsfields with the likes of Michael Browne, Niall O'Callaghan, Kim Turner, sure I was flying with these; good people; highly respected in the club and people that players looked up to.”
Admitting that when he moved to Wicklow he was in much the same position but bringing in Gary Jameson and Mike Hassett in particular worked a treat.
“Gary is Wicklow to the back bone and while Mike is a Kerry native, just walk around Greystones with him any day and every second person you meet is anxious to stop and talk to him, he is in Wicklow now for something like 20 years and his highly regarded and much respected.”
Leaving Sarsfields after just one season raised a few eyebrows, especially after winning the senior title but Davy explains that “it would only have been for a county job; I certainly would not have left Sarsfields for any other club, anywhere” quickly adding, “and I had options.
“I loved my time there, great club, great players but when I got the opportunity to see if I cut it at senior inter-county level I just could not turn that opportunity down.”
Davy admitted that initially when he went to Sarsfields he wondered if he had done the right thing. “Coming up to Christmas I remember saying to a few of my Confey friends, ‘not sure if I did the right thing here’ but soon after that I felt we began to click, but initially you are nervous, I take my football very serious and if something does not work I take it very personal as you are the manager and the book stops with you.”
Davy admitted that the experience gained with Sarsfields and what he learned from going into a club he had no real contact with, stood to him when he linked up with Wicklow.
I wasn't long with Wicklow before I realised this was the right move.
“It has all been, very, very enjoyable; the profile is right here; a very young squad, very energetic; they are mad for work; mad for football; mad for information; I think it was just the perfect fit to be honest.”
We try to make it as games specific as we can and I think that might have been a bit new to many of the players.
“There was an awful lot of athletic training; an awful lot of running and that's fine, you need to do a bit of that but at the end of the day this is all about football; all about who makes the better decisions when the pressure is on and that is where I would base 80-90 per cent of my training and seeing can you improve when you are on the ball in training, and then ultimately make better decisions in match situations.”
One thing that Davy Burke is, and it was obvious very early on in Wicklow, is being organised and well prepared and that stood to them.
“Playing in Division 4 we were formidable, bar one bad game against Limerick but overall I felt we were very comfortable, making better decisions under pressure and this is what it is all about.”
Getting promotion to Division 3 was a real boost and while there was no league final in Croke Park, which was a particular disappointment for Burke, nevertheless the main thing and no. 1 objective was to gain promotion.
“You must remember” insists Davy, “that when you are playing Division 3 and Division 4 football your no. 1 priority is the national football league and gaining promotion; absolutely no 1 and for us gaining promotion to Division 3 was a huge boost.
The no. 1 priority in 2021 is to, initially retain our divisional status, and hopefully then push for promotion again and into Division 2.”
What really pleased Burke is the fact that they (Wicklow) accumulated ten points from seven games, with just three game at home, “that is something we can be very happy with, home advantage is hugely important, even during the lockdown, playing at home is massive and hopefully this year we get the boost of an additional home game.”
As for the breakdown before the end of the league and start of the championship, Davy said initially the players were training individually, running, etc, 5ks and whatever but he laughs “some were brining in times Mo Farah wouldn't do, some were brining back times that you wouldn't do on a bike” but he adds, “we were wise to that and eventually decided to call a halt until restrictions were lifted.”
However when they eventually regrouped, the first-time senior county manager said they (management) were delighted with the shape the lads came back in.
We concentrated solely on football, no physical work, no S&C, pure football.
“And while we defeated Wexford two weeks in a row, the first in the league and the second in the championship, I felt when we met Meath it was like we were coming to the end of our season while Meath were only at the start of their season.”
That game (v Meath) was our seventh game in seven weeks between league, championship, and it told.
While admitting a few decisions did not go Wicklow's way, they were guilty of making many mistakes on the day, simple errors that would not normally be made, but added Burke “physically Meath shocked us, blew us away, they are a big strong, robust talented bunch of players, they have four or five years S&C under their belts and that certainly showed.
“We now” added Davy “have our players on an S&C plan, and regardless of who is in charge, either on the management side or county board side of things, those Wicklow players will remain on that plan for the next 3 or 4 years.”
Ironically following Meath's win over Kildare, Jack O'Connor (Lilies manager) expressed a very similar view that he felt the Royals were well ahead of Kildare when it came to physicality, it is also something that he said they (Kildare) would be giving big attention to.
Andy McEntee admitted to Davy Burke that he felt physicality played a huge role in Meath's win over Wicklow.
He (McEntee) reminded Burke that three or four years ago Kildare blew Meath out of the water and he (McEntee) said “that will never happen again and since that day we have been on a serious conditioning plan and you can see it.”
That of course brings us on to Dublin and what they did to Meath, emphasising, if that was needed, just how far Dublin are ahead of the rest, particularly in Leinster.
“My thinking on the Dublin thing from a Wicklow point of view is I don't think we are in any position to be talking about Dublin and to be giving out against Dublin; bitching in other words.
“My whole thing is get to Division 1, raise your own standards; improve your own culture; I think Dublin are used as an excuse by a lot of teams; by a lot of managers and a lot of players, saying ‘how can we get to where they are, sure they have X, Y and Z’; that's fine but many teams are not near maxing out; 50 or 60 per cent; my take on the Dublin thing is, yes, they are miles clear but whatever camp I would be in would have no right to talk about Dublin until they are a Division 1 side yourselves; and then week-in and week-out you can play Tyrone, Kerry and Galway, or whoever, but until you get yourself there, in Division 1, you simply have no right to be talking of Dublin.
“If Wicklow went out and played Dublin tomorrow, we would lose by what ever but if we got up to Division 1 and played a full season in Division 1, I would guarantee that our margin against Dublin would decrease.
“The more consistent, the higher level of football you play on a regular basis, you are going to become a better team; get closer to the top teams.”
Quickly adding “that's my belief anyway, rightly or wrongly” he laughs.
THE SPLIT SEASON AND HOW THE GAA STUMPLED ON THE WAY FORWARD
It's the way forward, absolutely; no doubt about it.
The words of Davy Burke when asked as to his thoughts on the proposed split season in the GAA.
He laughs, that boyish laugh that goes with him everywhere, before suggesting “you know I think the GAA stumbled on the way forward.”
Admitting that the organisation is notoriously slow to change and adapt he adds “I think football is going to become very more enjoyable now; we start at Point A, finish at Point B; no more of a ten month season, peaking three times a year, up and down like a yo yo; no overlapping; no manager will be interfering with the club scene, pulling players from the club scene to the county scene and back to the club scene.”
Up to this point it was very difficult to arrange anything away from football such as holidays, time off, anything, but that will all change with this new format he insists.
“It's the way forward; we can all arrange holidays; take a break; come back to the club and the best players will, as they should, be the best players for their clubs. It's a winner all round situation.”
Davy and his wife Shauna who became parents for the first time a few months ago with the arrival of their son Shea, added, again with the infectious laugh “and the big thing is you keep the family happy; keep the missus happy; keep the kids happy; you can plan your life, plan your holidays.
“It has the capacity and will undoubtedly, transform the entire season — even if the GAA did stumble on the way forward during the coronavirus, it is a plus and a win, win situation for everyone.”
TAILTEANN CUP ... ALL ABOUT MARKETING AND PROMOTION
Another big change that is planned, hopefully in 2021, is the introduction of the Tailteann Cup for counties who had operated in Division 3 and 4 of the Alliance Football League and did not reach a provincial final.
“The success, or otherwise, of the Tailteann Cup will come down, in my opinion, to how it is marketed and how it is promoted by Croke Park” says Davy Burke.
“If it goes down the road of the Joe McDonagh, Christy Ring, Nicky Rackard and Lory Meagher it is in trouble.
“Ultimately though I think it could be a great competition but if two teams playing in the Tailteann while at the same time, at a different venue, you have, for example, Kildare playing Dublin or Meath then it will be simply lost; no live television; no promotion, little coverage, simply falling between the cracks.
“But don't get me wrong, it is a good idea and with 16 or 17 counties without a bull's chance of winning the Sam Maguire, we need something like the Tailteann Cup to go after, but if it is not marketed properly it could end up a complete disaster.”
The Kildare native however points out that the 2021 final is scheduled to be played before an All-Ireland hurling semi final and asks “why not before a big football game, that kind of a fixture playing the final before a hurling semi-final makes no sense at all and in fact looks like it has just been stuck into the fixture calendar.
“That is a worry I have to say but if it is marketed properly, and I mean properly, it could be great, if not it will simply collapse and could in fact do football a terrible turn and that's for sure.”
But it will take time to take off, adds Burke, “a season or two or maybe even three, but if it is planned properly, marketed properly and promoted properly, it could become something very big for the so-called weaker counties, it is up to the GAA, we'll wait and see.”
AND THE FUTURE
I never made any secret of the fact that I am a proud Kildare man and I think anybody involved in football at a certain level, ultimately their senior county team is the flagship, confirms Davy Burke.
“I would like to think there is untapped talent there; think I could bring something to that that would improve them but there is probably a lot of people out there who believe they could do that also; but I think there are areas I could tap into things that could improve; but Kildare have a vastly experienced management team in place at the minute but down the line, sure we'll see what happens.”
However he quickly adds “I am in a very good fit in Wicklow at the moment; the management, the players and I think we are on the up; I am very happy and hopefully Wicklow are also happy with me.”