Jarlath Burns ready to step out from the shadows - but the real work starts now

Jarlath Burns, the next GAA President, was in the audience for last week's Gaels Le Chéile talk
Jarlath Burns will be officially installed as GAA's new president in Newry on Saturday afternoon. Picture by Sportsfile

FROM the shadows, Jarlath Burns will at last step out into the light at Newry’s Canal Court Hotel on Saturday afternoon.

As imperturbable a figure off the field as he was on it during years dominating the skies with Silverbridge and Armagh, a failed presidential bid in 2020 was never likely to knock the fight from the former Orchard midfielder.

And so, Burns picked himself up, dusted himself down and went again, scoring an emphatic victory to ensure he would become the first Armagh man to hold the position of GAA president since Alf Murray between 1964 and 1967.

At 4.30pm on Saturday, just 12 miles away from his beloved Keeley Park, the 56-year-old will officially take the chain of office from outgoing president Larry McCarthy – an eagerly-anticipated handover, and a proud day for his club, his county and all Ulster Gaels.

And yet Jarlath Burns’s ascension to the office of Uachtarán has felt something of a fait accompli almost since the day and hour he hung up his boots.

The first prominent ex-player to hold the presidency since former Kilkenny hurler Nickey Brennan took up position in 2006, Burns threw himself into the world of GAA administration upon retirement, serving on a number of committees at national and provincial level.

A year after leading Armagh to Ulster glory in 1999, then president Sean McCague appointed him chair of the inaugural players’ committee in 2000, while he was also chair of the GAA’s 125th anniversary committee in 2009 and Scór Naisiúnta.

He has served as Armagh’s central council delegate as well as sitting on the GAA’s medical and scientific committee and pitch presentation group, and the standing committee on playing rules.

That was all balanced with his career in education - culminating in Burns’s appointment as principal of St Paul’s High School, Bessbrook in 2013 – alongside unwavering commitment to the club and community in Silverbridge.

Over the past 12 months, various pictures have surfaced on social media showing Burns clad in hi-viz, either on stewarding duty or digging holes. For others they could be viewed with suspicion, a publicity stunt to create an illusion of authenticity for the job ahead.

In his case, however, those credentials have never been in doubt.

Day by day, though, his in-tray is piling higher. Just this week Burns watched from the wings at Croke Park as a stated timetable for integration with ladies’ football and camogie was unveiled, aiming for full amalgamation by the end of 2027. His term will end in the spring of that year.

Elsewhere the redevelopment of Casement Park remains a burning issue, with the clock ticking down towards decision time for all relevant parties. And then there are a host of personal priorities Burns has spoken of through the years.

Regarded as a man unafraid to ruffle feathers and push for change, he has spoken of the need to address the issue of rising inter-county budgets, at one point calling it “a juggernaut - and one that we’re just about in control of”.

He has talked about the need to introduce a cap on inter-county training, the protection of amateurism at all costs, and the importance of developing hurling in areas where the game struggles to gain a foothold.

It is a heavy load, and only time will tell what imprint he is able to make.

The election night is but a fading memory a year down the track, while the warm glow of solid handshakes and pats on the back inside the Canal Court tomorrow will soon wear off.

The real work, Jarlath Burns knows, begins now.