Career : 1953-55, 1957-60
Debut : Round 6, 1953 vs Hawthorn, aged 22 years, 179 days
Carlton Player No. 670
Games : 87
Goals : 113
Last Game : Round 18, 1960 vs South Melbourne, aged 29 years, 268 days
Guernsey No. 5
Height : 187 cm (6 ft. 1 in.)
Weight : 83 kg (13 stone, 1 lb.)
DOB : 2 December, 1930
Leading Goalkicker: 1957
Navy Blue to the core, Gerald Burke was a versatile and valuable player for the Carlton Football Club in seven of the eight seasons between 1953 and 1960. Although absent for a year coaching in 1956, he returned to Princes Park in 1957 and became an early mentor to a young John Nicholls in Carlton’s ruck. Five years after Burke’s retirement from the field, he was appointed Treasurer of the club, and later still, became an incisive and popular radio commentator.
‘Burkie’ had a long football apprenticeship at Princes Park, which began when he joined Carlton’s Under 19 squad in 1949 and celebrated a Premiership with them that same year after being recruited from Carlton Stars (Sunday League). The following season he moved up into the Reserves team, and in 1953 – the year he made his debut in the Carlton seniors – he experienced the thrill of playing in the curtain-raiser on Grand Final day at the MCG. At full-forward, he kicked three goals as the Blues’ Reserves defeated their Essendon counterparts to win a second-successive minor grade Premiership under the astute coaching of club great Jim Francis.
At senior level, Burke showed himself as a capable key forward. He was good reader of the play and knew how to find space, but his endurance and strong hands made him equally valuable as a follower, or second ruckman. As his career developed, he was often used as an alternative full-forward – playing out of the pocket, but leading into space when the designated spearhead ran the opposition full-back well up the ground. A generally reliable set shot for goal, he kicked 27 majors in 25 games between 1953 and ’56, then surprised by accepting a lucrative offer to captain-coach ACT club Manuka for the 1956 season.
For unknown reasons, Burke’s spell in the Canberra competition lasted only one season, and in 1957 he was back at Princes Park to be reunited with Jim Francis, who had been appointed senior coach of the Blues while Burke was with Manuka. It was also at that time that a big, chubby 17 year-old from Maryborough named John Nicholls began his career with the Blues.
Burke enjoyed his best season with Carlton in 1957. While sharing the ruck duties with his captain Ken Hands, Graham Donaldson and Nicholls, he also resumed his role up forward - kicking 34 goals in 17 games - to win Carlton’s leading goal-kicker award. More importantly perhaps, his consistent and creative work around the ground saw him placed fourth overall in the club Best and Fairest award. Carlton made the finals for the first time in five years, only to fall to Hawthorn in the first Semi Final.
Burke played on for another three seasons afterwards, but had to wait until 1959 for another taste of finals football. Carlton wound up second on the ladder to Essendon, and made it through to a Preliminary Final clash with the Bombers on a miserably cold and wet day at the MCG. Essendon led by 4 points at half time, 6 points at the last break, and held on to beat the Blues by 7. Nicholls and Burke combined in Carlton’s ruck, and gave their all.
Burke played his last senior match for Carlton against South Melbourne at the Lake Oval in round 18, 1960. Carlton won by 15 points, but missed out on a place in the finals after a disappointingly patchy season. By then, as he hung up his number 5 guernsey for the last time, ‘Burkie’ could look back on a creditable career of 87 games and 113 goals – but he wasn’t yet finished at Princes Park.
When George Harris and his Progress Party swept into power at Carlton in 1965, Gerald Burke became honorary Treasurer of the club. He held the post until 1969, when health problems led to his resignation. Later, he became a football commentator with Melbourne radio station 3KZ, and was a familiar voice to thousands of listeners every weekend for many years.
But perhaps Burkie’s proudest moment came in July, 1981, when his strapping son Rohan ran down the race at Princes Park and out on to the field to play his first senior game for the Old Dark Navy Blues. Built much like his father, but more of a tough-nut defender, Rohan eventually played 18 matches for Carlton, in a career blighted by a troublesome knee injury.
Burke passed away on the 24th June, 1994 aged 63.
Milestones50 Games: Round 11, 1958 Vs Footscray
100 Goals: Round 12, 1959 Vs Essendon
Career Highlights1949 - U/19's Premiership
1949 - U/19's Most Improved Player
1953 - Reserves Premiership