y Jackie Cahill
Thursday April 19 2012
EVEN now, almost five years since making his senior championship debut, Pa Bourke admits that he's still not cracked it.
But the Allianz National Hurling League campaign has provided the Thurles native with the platform to produce his most consistent run of form to date in a Tipperary shirt.
In a county renowned for producing attackers of high quality, Bourke announced his arrival on the national stage in 2006 when he contributed 3-35 as Tipp won the All-Ireland minor title.
Bourke, Michael Cahill, Pádraic Maher, Brendan Maher, Gearóid Ryan and Seamus Hennessy would emerge from that team to win All-Ireland senior medals in 2010.
Bourke, however, was the only one of the sextet not to sample any game time against Kilkenny in the 2010 final.
That year was a difficult one for Bourke in many respects. He was attempting to cope with the death of his father, John, before being let go by then manager Liam Sheedy prior to the championship.
Following Tipp's defeat to Cork at Páirc Uí Chaoimh at the end of May, Bourke was recalled, and his impact against Galway in the All-Ireland quarter-final should never be forgotten.
Brought on with five minutes remaining, Bourke provided the pass for clubmate Lar Corbett to score the winning point as Tipp snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.
It was redemption of sorts for Bourke, who must have felt like he was trailing in the slipstreams of his fellow graduates from that 2006 minor vintage.
Yet he was the first of the six to make his senior championship debut, against Limerick in 2007. Michael 'Babs' Keating handed him the nod in the first of the memorable three-game epic against the Shannonsiders -- but many felt that it was far too soon.
It was 2009 before Ryan and the two Mahers tasted senior championship fare, against Cork, while Cahill and Seamus Hennessy made their senior bows against the same opposition in 2010.
In 14 championship appearances to date, Bourke has scored 1-6, with that first championship goal arriving against Kilkenny in last year's All-Ireland final.
Again, Bourke was a substitute -- but this looks like being the year when he takes his game to a new level.
He reflected: "I'm there since 2007 and I still haven't nailed down a starting place. Sunday is another opportunity for me to put my name in the hat for championship time."
Bourke admits that it's been "frustrating" looking from the outside in, but patience and perseverance could yet pay rich dividends.
So far this year, Bourke couldn't have done much more.
In Tipp's five Division 1A matches, he picked off 2-31, including 1-22 from placed balls, having been entrusted with free-taking duties in Eoin Kelly's absence.
Throw in 1-19 in the three Waterford Crystal Cup matches he featured in earlier this year and Bourke's seasonal tally in competitive fare is 3-50.
In the National League to date, Bourke has accounted for over 31pc of Tipperary's scores, but the worry in a general sense is Tipperary's lack of goals.
In five matches, Tipp have scored 110 points but just three goals -- and two of those came against Galway.
Those strikes from Bourke and McGrath against the Tribesmen are also the only goals that Tipp have scored from play in the entire league campaign ahead of Sunday's Division 1A semi-final against Cork at Semple Stadium.
That's something Tipperary need to address, as the goalscoring X-factor that was Lar Corbett remains absent -- with Bourke revealing that the 2010 Hurler of the Year is not involved with his club either.
"Not at the moment, no," Bourke confirmed. "He decided that he's giving his all to the business. And you have to respect that too."
But in Corbett's absence, and with Patrick 'Bonnar' Maher and Seamus Callanan playing no part to date in the league through injury, Bourke has picked up the baton to emerge as Tipp's most prolific attacker.
Whether that's good enough to earn a championship place remains to be seen. But for now, he's doing all that he can.
- Jackie Cahill