GAA Football

'The fact that he shares my name, I wouldn't want that to be a distraction because he's his own fella'

Jarlath Og Burns, pictured playing for Armagh against St Mary's during the Dr McKenna Cup, has been a key figure in the Ranch's run to tomorrow's Sigerson Cup final. Picture by Bill Smyth
Neil Loughran

Electric Ireland Sigerson Cup

ST Mary’s going for Sigerson Cup glory, a star-studded UCC collective standing in their way and a hungry young lad called Jarlath Burns leading the charge from midfield.

Thirty years on from the Ranch’s first-ever Sigerson triumph, the symmetry between that campaign and this is striking.

In 1989 Burns was one a number of men, inter-county careers in their infancy, who would lead St Mary’s to the promised land for the first time in the college’s history.

At O’Moore Park in Portlaoise tomorrow night his son, Jarlath Og Burns, has the chance to replicate that achievement against the same opposition.

Having also appeared in the same county colours his father wore with distinction, the drawing of comparisons is inevitable - inescapable even. Understandably, Burns senior is wary about going down that line.

He wants Jarlath Og to have the freedom to continue to write his own story. It has certainly done him no harm so far.

“Jarly Og’s his own man,” said the Silverbridge man.

“He’s a very dedicated lad, I really admire his tenacity, his diligence, how hard he works at his game. He’s very serious about his game, takes his lifestyle very seriously – he’s obsessive about it.

“But as well as that, he really loves it, enjoys every minute of it. The fact that he shares my name, I wouldn’t want that to be a distraction because he’s his own fella, he has his own personality.

“I would never want him to be compared…” adds Burns, before breaking into a low chuckle, “because very, very quickly I would imagine I’ll be on the wrong side of that comparison - if not already.”

Down in Mallow last Saturday he was just like any of the other parents who burst onto the field after St Mary’s had dethroned reigning champions UCD - a remarkable achievement in its own right, but one that will stand for little unless they finish the job tomorrow.

Thirty years ago Burns et al came up against a UCC side that boasted the extravagant talents of Kerry legend Maurice Fitzgerald. The class of 2019 rely heavily upon Sean O’Shea, the man often cast as Fitzgerald’s heir apparent among the Kingdom’s current clutch.

Like most observers Burns hadn’t expected Gavin McGilly’s side to get the better of UCD, pointing once again to the underdog spirit that continues to fuel the St Mary’s fire.

“It was a brilliant performance by the boys. I wasn’t expecting them to win to be honest, but St Mary’s just have that wee something.

“They were nearly as much of a curiosity as anything else. I got the Sigerson programme on Saturday, I think there was four or five players pictured on it along the top, all in their jerseys, but nobody from St Mary’s.

“All those things really help the boys; the boys all love that. No matter who St Mary’s play, the opposition’s going to be favourites.

“UCC will be favourites and that’s probably the biggest thing the Ranch have going for them; they’ll just never, ever stop.”

Highlight reels of some supreme high fielding from their weekend win have done the rounds on social media during recent days, with Jarlath Og and midfield partner Liam Devlin among those seen ruling the skies.

For some it invoked memories of John Reihill and Burns senior doing just the same in St Mary’s colours, and the former Armagh midfielder admits he still looks back on that campaign with particular fondness.

“I remember that vividly and would still consider it one of my greatest achievements, winning that Sigerson.

“Again, we had an exceptional group of characters. None of us were major stars or anything but a lot of those boys went on to win All-Irelands, if you look at the likes of Benny Tierney, Seamus Downey, Cathal Murray, Danny Quinn.

“I have found that St Mary’s is a great launching pad for fellas to start their career, and the current group are all just really solid guys who are far, far bigger than the sum of their parts.

“This team has to make its own history. The fact St Mary’s did it two years ago shows it’s not a pipe dream; these fellas believe they can do it because they’ve watched other fellas from the college do it in similar circumstances.

“That’ll be their big inspiration.”

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