Jarlath Burns: Minor final venue, lessons playing minor and learning how to act from Roy Keane

GAA president and former Armagh captain Jarlath Burns talks about his experiences playing minor football for Armagh and how it shaped his inter-county career

GAA President Jarlath Burns at the Ulster Football Senior Championship final between Armagh and Donegal at St Tiernach's  Park, Clones
GAA President Jarlath Burns at the Ulster Football Senior Championship final between Armagh and Donegal at St Tiernach's Park, Clones (Philip Walsh)

GAA President Jarlath Burns shared the dilemma he faces with the criticism of the scheduling of the All-Ireland minor final, explaining that he must consider player welfare in instances like this.

In the not-so-distant past, the minor final was used as a curtain raiser for the men’s senior final, giving players and fans alike memories to last a lifetime, such as Armagh’s victory in 2009 and David Clifford’s emergence as the future star of Kerry and his tally of4-4 in the final to beat Derry in 2017.

Burns, on the GAA Minor Moments podcast, shared his memories of his time at underage level for Armagh and the issues facing the GAA, especially at minor level, including the venue and date of the minor final.

“It can be done (if we want to play the minors before the senior game), it can be done there’s no doubt about it, but it does come at a price,” said the Silverbridge clubman, who made his minor debut for Armagh in 1985, aged 17 against Fermanagh, where he scored a rare goal.

“It means then that the minor final has to wait until the last week of July and that means that the Championships for all counties involved have to be held back until that time.

“All of these things have consequences, and as a grassroots organisation, they’re the top players, they’ve already had gruelling years with their schools, high expectations with their club, maybe playing for a couple of teams and then suddenly, you’re talking about this county situation in an All-Ireland final.”

Kerry minor star David Clifford comes across as engaging, witty and likeable in his dealings with the media. Could the Dublin players learn a thing or two from him?
David Clifford started at minor level for Kerry aged 17, winning back-to-back Munster and All-Ireland medals in 2016 and 2017

The minor final was changed from under-18 to under-17 level, which means that players could be in the middle of their secondary education when the opportunity to get their first taste of minor county gaelic games.

The minor final moved away from the curtain raiser slot at the All-Ireland showpiece in 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the change stuck past the pandemic, when, despite the final returning to Croke Park the following year, Meath beat Tyrone and the minors had their own day in the sun.

Burns said: “One of our values is player welfare, we have to look after these players, have to make sure that they are looked after and if you look at the under-20 hurling final, you talk about memorable moments, that was one of the most memorable moments as president for me ever at Nowlan Park, what 24-25,000 people.

“If you had that crowd at Croke Park, it would be a small crowd, but in Nowlan Park, people were just jammed and the atmosphere was incredible in so those moments so those top players will get plenty of chances to play at Croke Park.”

Derry-Armagh minors
Derr y face Armagh in the All-Ireland Minor Championship final at O'Neills Healy Park in Omagh in an all-Ulster affair

Since 2021, the venue has changed hands around the country, with Omagh being this year’s venue given that both Armah and Derry hail from Ulster, this venue makes the most sense.

“I think there will be a fierce crowd in Omagh and it will be a great occasion, but we’re not closed to the idea of playing these finals as curtain raisers as long as people know that that comes with consequences.”

Speaking of his journey through the under-16 minor system at Armagh, Burns spoke of the high esteem he held the orange jersey of the Orchard County.

“We got onto a bus and we drove to Meath that afternoon to play them in the first round and myself and John (Whelan) were midfield, I just could not believe I was wearing this Armagh jersey that was so sacred to me, number nine, Colm McKinstry,” said Burns.

The late Colm McKinstry, pictured celebrating an Armagh Ulster Championship title, is one of the outstanding players Clan na Gael has produced
The late Colm McKinstry, pictured celebrating an Armagh Ulster Championship title, was Jarlath's midfield idol when at minor level for Armagh

“It was such an honour for me and I remember that game very, very vividly, every kick of it and going home that day and telling my parents that I had played for Armagh that day it was just a fantastic day for me.

“This is the same for all the players, you dream of playing for your county.”

The current Uachtarán CLG spoke about the importance of the lessons learned by players at the minor level and how they can prepare players for the top level of the game.

He said: “Playing in front of a big crowd, on a big day, on a sunny day in the championship, there’s nothing does prepare you for it and that’s when I’d say I made a lot of mistakes.

“I went out in the next round (of the 1985 Ulster minor championship) against Donegal at Breffini Park and Armagh were playing after it again and I remember in the warm-up I decided, stupidly, that I wasn’t going to touch the ball because it would make me even hungrier for the ball when the game started.

“What I hadn’t reckoned on was that there was a shower as we were warming up and there was a wet ball for the first half and every time I went for the ball in the first half, it slipped out of my hands because I hadn’t properly prepared during the warm-up.”

Republic of Ireland's Roy Keane (right) brings down Holland's Marc Overmars during the World Cup European Qualifying Group Two game at Lansdowne Road, Dublin on Saturday September 1 2001
Burns credits Roy Keane with teaching him how to get himself back into the game if he ever felt like a spectator out on the pitch

The ex-Orchard midfielder also spoke about how he took his early inspiration on how to play at the highest level from another Irish midfielder, Roy Keane.

“If you want to know how to play at the highest level, just listen to moments of genius from him. I remember him saying that, “Whenever things wouldn’t be going well for me, I would smash into somebody just to make me feel better.”

“When I became a senior player, if I could feel myself coming out of a game if the ball was kicked out in the middle of the field, I would jump wildly into the middle of it to clatter into three or four people and get up, even foul somebody, even get booked, do something to just get your heart pumping.

“Get yourself back into the game and just get focused on the game rather than just being a spectator. To say that the game passed him by that’s the worst feeling, when you know that the game passed you by it can be a lonely place in the game.”

Jarlath Burns was a guest on the GAA Minor Moments podcast, hosted by Fergal O’Keefe and sponsored by Electric Ireland, which asks major Irish sports stars, both GAA and otherwise, about their experience at minor GAA level and how it shaped their sporting career and their lives.

* Story updated on Thursday, July 4