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Local hero Matthew gets Champions Cup break

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LIVING HIS DREAM Matthew Burke is pictured in action for Connacht against Toulouse in the Heineken European Champions Cup in Toulouse, France recently. Pic: Sportsfile

Rob Murphy

THE Stade Ernest Wallon in Toulouse has an atmosphere like no other in world rugby, the crowd are engaged with every play. Mobile phones stay in the pockets, every sub gets a standing ovation, even the warm-ups in the in-goal area get a raucous reaction. We like to think we create a good atmosphere at provincial grounds in Ireland but it isn’t a patch on what they can muster up at the home of the 20-time French champions.
Connacht were over in Toulouse last week for a Champions Cup tie, their second game in that competition this season having beaten Montpellier a week previous to that. The games marked their return to European rugby’s elite competition after a two-year hiatus with many of their younger players making their debut in this competition.
One of those debutants was loosehead prop Matthew Burke from Ballinrobe.
The 22 year-old started his rugby career with his home town club, working through the underage ranks at the Green before joining Galwegians and then breaking into the various Connacht representative underage sides.
That paved the way for a place in the Connacht academy.  
Matthew’s full Connacht debut came last year away to Sale Sharks in the Challenge Cup and he has gone on to make 17 appearances, including seven this season.
Last Saturday week was his first foray into the Champions Cup at the home of the four-time winners and current French champions. He came off the bench midway through the second half and anchored some important scrums, making plenty of tackles too.
Connacht, of course, have their own strong connection with their followers and well over 500 travelled to the picturesque city for this one. After the game, they greeted their side with vigour as they had performed above expectations despite a high injury count.
The 32-17 scoreline failed to reflect the fact that they led early in the second half and had chances right to the end.
Among the travelling supporters was a group from Ballinrobe RFC who had travelled over to support their province and their own local hero Matthew Burke.
Among them was his father, John.
Matthew walked over to the Ballinrobe fans once he had shaken the hands of the winners. If you’re online, you might catch a fine video of him meeting the familiar faces — Paul Keane, Adrian Flannery, David Nestor, John Flannery, Mike Ansbro, Brendan O’Toole, Martin Costello, Trevor Watson, Peter Walsh and Damian Burke.
Most of them were sporting movember moustaches and all!
In the background — as they meet and greet their hero — you can see plenty of local Toulouse supporters looking down on this scene with smiles in admiration. They have seen it all before themselves no doubt with their own small clubs in France.
The game is professional and it can be a ruthless business but, at its core, are still all of these local stories where young people represent their local communities with pride.

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