'You were a true son of Down' - tributes paid following shock death of Eamonn Burns
FOR those fortunate enough to have followed the great Down teams of the early 1990s, there is something that stirs the soul when the memory casts back to those September Sundays.
The sea of red and black on the Hill in ’91, the thunderous downpour in ’94, the Royals rumbled and the Dubs defeated as Down ascended back to the throne for the first time since 1968.
To a certain generation, the names and faces of all the men involved in that effort are forever preserved in that moment. It was a magical time for them, but also for us.
This makes it all the more difficult to comprehend the sudden passing of Eamonn Burns, a stalwart of both the 1991 and 1994 All-Ireland winning teams who would later go on to manage his beloved county – leading Down to the 2017 Ulster final.
Mention his name and thoughts don’t turn to the countless times he stood before the assembled media after matches during that three-year spell in the hot seat.
Instead, the first image that springs to mind is of the swashbuckling midfielder who ran the show against Meath in the ’91 decider, bombing off the shoulder to land two classy scores as Down surged into the lead.
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“He really came into his own that day,” recalls Pete McGrath, who led the charge in ’91 and ’94.
“The athleticism, the work-rate. It was a real cauldron. Meath threw everything at us. The whole team rose to the occasion, but Eamonn really stood out.
“It was his finest performance in a Down jersey in my view, and he produced it on the biggest day.
“I’m still trying to process the fact that he’s gone,” he added, “but when something like that happens, you look back on great days.
“The last time I saw Eamonn was the day of the All-Ireland final replay, walking on the footpath down past the Skylon towards Croke Park.
“A lot of people will be very saddened and shocked in county Down this morning, and will feel we’ve lost a man who has contributed so much to Down football over this last quarter of a century.
“A man of dignity. A man of integrity.”
Quiet and unassuming away from football, Eamonn Burns was never one to dine out on stories of his own remarkable achievements – certainly not in public anyway.
To team-mates, though, he was one of the jokers, most recently revelling in the 25th reunion of the 1994 success on All-Ireland final day.
“It was such a brilliant, relaxed weekend – I haven’t laughed as much in ages,” said former team-mate and friend Neil Collins.
“We had great craic with each other. We’ve always felt we were lucky as a group because we’d a really good bunch of lads, we had such good fun and he was in the middle of all of it as usual.”
That jubilee team is due to be presented to the Newry crowd at Pairc Esler during Sunday’s Down championship final meeting of Kilcoo and Warrenpoint. In spite of the prize at stake, it will be a sombre afternoon for all.
“Today the world of Down GAA has been rocked by the sad news that one of our most favourite sons Eamonn Burns has passed away suddenly,” read a statement from the Down County Board.
“Eamonn was a great ambassador for Down as a player and as a manager. He was one of the good guys, always about the greater good, always selfless with his time and only wanting to give of his best in any task that he undertook.
“Down GAA have been privileged to have Eamonn Burns amongst our sons, he gave us as supporters many magical moments, he brought a smile to our faces and in those days of 1991 and 1994 he helped bring us glory days.
“Eamonn has been taken from us too soon, we will miss you Eamonn but we will smile in the memory of the days that you gave us. You were a true son of Down.
“On behalf of the family that is Down GAA we offer our deepest and heartfelt sympathy to Sinead, Cathal, Thomas and to Malachy, Colum, Mary and the Burns and Mullan family circle.
“Ar Dheis Dé go raibh a anam.”
His club, Bryansford, also paid their respects to a man who had become a part of the fabric at St Patrick’s Park.
“It is with great sadness that we have today learned of the passing of our member Eamonn Burns.
“An All-Ireland winner with Down, he was a true legend of both club and county. From all at the club we extend our sincere condolences to his family at this sad time.”