FLORRIE BURKE is a name synonymous with Cork soccer in the 1940s and 50s and his name was magic to thousands of soccer fans up and down the country in the good old days.
Many a soccer fanatic at that time considered Cork Athletic's centre-half to be the best player of his generation.
With John Caulfield’s Cork City on the scent of a first-ever league and FAI Cup double and up against Dundalk at the Aviva Stadium this weekend it seemed appropriate to focus on a true legend of the game on Leeside and beyond. He captained the last Cork team to win the double – Cork Athletic in 1951/52 – they actually won the treble, including the Munster Senior Cup.
The late Florrie was born in Ballintemple near Blackrock and had the distinction of playing with three great Cork clubs - Cork United, Cork Athletic and Evergreen to become one of the greatest centre-halves ever having started his career as a free-scoring inside-right. He was never booked or sent off in his entire playing career and he was inducted into the Opel Hall of Fame in 1993 when nominated by a team-mate, the late Willie Cotter, a former sports editor of the then Cork Examiner and a member of the Soccer Writers’ Association of Ireland.
Florrie was a director of Cork Athletic for a brief spell when they replaced Cork United and helped to launch the new club.
At the end of his career, and while still being a retained player for Cork Athletic in the League, a loophole in his contract allowed him to be released to play for Evergreen in the Cup!
This loophole was christened the ‘Burke loophole’ at the time. As fate would have it that year, he went on to play in the only all-Cork FAI Cup final with Evergreen against his League club Cork Athletic.
The match ended in a draw in Dublin and Athletic won the replay (again in Dublin) due to the prowess of the legendary striker Raich Carter whom Athletic had signed from England.
Florrie learned to play the game in Beaumont but also played hurling for Blackrock and was on the ‘Rockies’ team that played Brian Dillon’s in the City Division JHF in 1938 and he was considered to have had the potential to become an All-Ireland hurler.
Despite his exemplary and legendary performances on the soccer field he used to joke that his claim to fame was having his wrist broken in a hurling match by the famous Cork hurler and former Taoiseach the late Jack Lynch.
He played soccer with Blackrock in the senior league before joining Cork United in 1942 and went on to feature in 12 Cup finals taking in six replays.
He was on the winning teams with Cork United in 1947 and with Cork Athletic in 1951 – he won six league medals, four with United and two with Athletic – and played three times and captained the Inter-league team.
He was capped for Ireland at senior level at 33 against West Germany where he emerged as man of the match against a German side that went on to win the World Cup final with a 3-2 win over Hungary in Berne, Switzerland in 1954.
In one of his famous Inter-League appearances against the English League he blotted out the ‘Lion of Vienna’ the great Nat Lofthouse with a masterful defensive display. It was while Florrie was making his way back onto the field after a serious clash of heads which necessitated at least six stitches above his eye, that Lofthouse scored the only goal.
Both games were in 1951 when Florrie was in the twilight of his career but just after the War, Everton offered him the then huge sum of £2,000 to move to Goodison Park but he declined.
He worked in Fords down the Marina and also in Dagenham where he joined a local soccer team and steered them to a league title before eventually settling in the small Welsh town of Kenfig Hill, near Bridgend between Swansea and Cardiff.
Born in Cork in 1918, Florrie was finally laid to rest in Cornelly Cemetery near Kenfig Hill in 1995 close to his little Welsh community he came to love and consider his home from home.