A CRITICISM often aimed at Chris Burke was his apparent lack of toughness.

This was levelled at him at Rangers before he departed Ibrox for a seven year career in the Premier League and Championship of England; not an environment known as being easy.

And then last year, and for the second time in his career, Burke was hit by a virus which left him seriously down and for a while he feared out of football.

However, he fought through and is now back playing again. If that’s not tough then what is.

Now 33, which will make some feel old, Burke is at Kilmarnock after signing a year-long deal with a new enthusiasm for football which understandably had left him during his illness.

“I am just delighted to be back in the game,” said Burke. “I’ve been training with Kilmarnock all summer and wanted to get a contract. I’m happy the club did everything they could to get me to sign and hopefully I can be part of a successful season.

“I am looking to get the illness behind me. It seems I always get viruses when I come back to Scotland. These things happen but it did take a lot out of me. It was unfortunate in the timing because I had come back home and was doing well at Ross County last season - and I can’t say a bad word about them.

“It does take time to get back well again. Fortunately it has come at a time when I could reboot and managed to do most of pre-season with Kilmarnock, although I am still looking for full fitness.

“I am hoping there will be no setbacks for myself and I can get back to enjoying my football and be part of this exciting team.”

Burke made his debut for Rangers at 17 and played almost 470 senior matches which might surprise some people.

So he’s a veteran now but one who is delighted to being able to call himself a football player again.

“Listen, there are were moments when it did get me down,” said Burke. “That’s because all I know is playing football. I did it as a kid and then was fortunate enough to become a professional footballer at a very young age.

“All I knew was kicking a ball about and being fit. Then something like that hits you are I was floored – just like that. I tried to come back and it floor you again.

“There were times when I thought ‘am I going to get better?’ We all know what it’s like to get man flu and I had something 20 times worse than that. I have hopefully come through to the end of it.

“What I will say is that I’m going to appreciate having football in my life so much more because of what I’ve been through over the last eight months.”

Kilmarnock got their hopes of advancing from Group E back on track after Friday night's loss to Ayr thanks to doubles from Rory McKenzie and Dom Thomas in a 4-2 win over Clyde.

And Burke, who made his debut on Tuesday night, believes the team manager by his old team-mate Lee McCulloch “I can’t call him Jig any more” has a real chance of doing something this season.

“I really believe we have an exciting young group of players here,” said Burke. “There are some older pros as well who can help them, so we have a nice balance now.

“We lost at Ayr and what we were looking for against Clyde was a reaction as we got that. I thought in spells we played some very good football, some of the goals we scored were fantastic.

“As for the gaffer, he has a bright future in management. He was the one who swayed me to join Kilmarnock.

“I know him well through my career at Rangers and I also trained here before going to Ross County so I knew what Kilmarnock was all about.”