Interview originally published March 1, 2019.
Versatile Meath man, Mickey “The Honeybadger” Burke, has been representing Meath footballers since 2004 and is the last remaining link to Sean Boylan.
Since his debut under county royalty, he’s always been ahead of the curve.
While it’s not uncommon these days to see players covered in tattoos, Burke donned the ink up and down his arm long before having a sleeve became ‘cool’. For much of his career, his appearance resembled more ‘rockstar’ than inter-county star.
But that’s just who Mickey Burke is, he’s his own man who lives life his own way. Some may consider him different or eccentric, but that’s fine because he’s proud of who he is and where he’s from.
“I suppose I am (eccentric), I’m not doing it to show off, I am what I am,” Burke told Pundit Arena.
“I had long hair and tattoos, I would be different, always would have been a bit wild, but it’s probably a Longwood thing as well. I’ve always been my own man and never worried about what people think, whether that’s playing football or in life.”
Burke’s love of Longwood is clear when he talks of the 1,500 person strong village which lies on the Kildare/Meath border.
Like much of rural Ireland, the GAA club lies at the heart of the village and is the epicentre of the local community. A strong dual club punching high above their weight, Longwood will compete in both senior hurling and football in 2019 for the first time ever.
“Yeah, we are a fierce small area. It’s a tiny parish and we have a pub right in the middle of the village.” Burke said.
“We won the intermediate in football last season, so we’re now senior hurling and football. We probably used 18 guys in the football championship last season and probably 15 or 16 of them play hurling as well, so more or less everyone plays dual.
“We were in three relegation playoffs in a row to go back down to junior again so it was a bit of a Leicester City job. If you went into the local bookies beforehand, Longwood would have been one of the favourites for relegation and everybody in the county will tell you that, it’s no secret.
“So, to go from junior B right up to seniors is just mad. I am very proud to be a Longwood man. It’s a wild little spot but it’s gas.”
Senior football and hurling may be a bit of an anomaly for Longwood, but for Burke, however, not so much. Known throughout the country for his services to Meath football, what many may not know is that Burke was one of the last active dual stars in Ireland.
“Hurling would be my first love and I would have been known as a hurler growing up initially. I played senior hurling with Longwood when I was 15 and got called into the Meath hurling squad when I was 16.
“I would have played dual for a good number of years, I tried to play both codes as much as I could. It was demanding but I was up for it and wanted to do it. It just takes good communication from management really.”
Despite the demands of playing both and the risk of not being able to maximise your potential, Mickey Burke has always felt better playing both codes.
He doesn’t subscribe to the notion that the days of the inter-county dual star is gone. Burke believes that with good management and the right player, it can become fashionable once again.
“Are you going to be at your peak in both? Probably not, but I feel better personally playing both, it gives me a bit of a break mentally as much as anything.” Burke said.
“I love it. I think the small ball helps with your reactions playing football. It’s going to take someone like Con O’Callaghan to maybe do it then all of a sudden it might become fashionable again. I just think if two management teams talk and communicate properly, well then the player doesn’t have to be burnt out he can do it, the fixtures are probably the one real issue.”
He may not be playing dual anymore, but Burke is still training just as hard. At the ripe old age of 33, Burke is as fit as he was at 23. It’s no accident though, he’s had help along the way in the form of his family who have been there every step of the way while the baby of the family pursues his dreams.
“I’m very passionate about fitness, I’m really into it and always researching, I am mad into marginal gains. I laugh when I see boys stretching when they are 30 or eating brocolli or putting on the skins, I’ve been trying to do that for the last 10 years, has it made a difference? I don’t know but I hope it had, might have kept me going for as long as it has.”
“I wouldn’t be able to keep going without the help of my family. My mother, father and sister have been a huge help to me over the years. My brother, Colman, is a vet living in New Zealand, but I know he’s always there for me should I ever need him.
“My dad is my biggest influence, he’s nearly 80 years of age but Jesus he’s as hard as the hobs of hell. Stoney is his nickname, we run a pub in Longwood and a have the farm out the back. That’s what I be doing with myself.”
Running a pub and farm is hard enough, but it’s not the only pie Burke has his finger in. He’s recently branched into the fashion world, releasing his own line of retro Meath jerseys.
“The retro jersey thing has been in my head for a while now.”
“I try to be positive, nothing ventured, nothing gained. I released it two weeks ago and they are going really, really well, it’s a throwback to ’88 and that great team, that team was… I wrote it on my label, it was different, it was unique, it was honest and they are the kind of triats that I’d like to associate with myself.
“I’m not comparing myself to that team in any way shape or form they were much better footballers than me, but the characteristics of that jersey, I would like to associate with myself, but they are going well, I’ve to put a new order in. Look it, life is short isn’t it, so I said I would go for it, take a chance, and see how it goes. I’m loving it.”
He’s loving his football too at the moment. Meath stand on the brink of Division One for the first time since they were relegated from the old Division 1B in 2004. Burke’s not getting ahead of himself, he knows there are plenty of twists and turns left in this campaign, however, he doesn’t mince his words when he says that top-tier football is the aim for Meath.
“We’d love to get to Division One. I think that would be key, I know everyone talks about the Championship but, we’ve got to be Division One and be playing the best teams week in, week out.” Burke said.
“Of course you want to do well in championship, don’t get wrong and you want to get as far as you can, but I really do think that trying to get to Division One is almost more important,
“But we’re a young squad, a lot of good guys from the minors in 2012 who got to the All-Ireland final, and we’re just trying to develop them and have them battle hardened playing against those top-tier teams.