Northern Ireland underage ace Patrick Burns on lockdown, Notre Dame and being the best you can be

Patrick Burns pictured playing for Glenavon last season. The Crumlin youngster is heading to Notre Dame this summer to embark on an academic and soccer career
Patrick Burns pictured playing for Glenavon last season. The Crumlin youngster is heading to Notre Dame this summer to embark on an academic and soccer career

Patrick Burns has made the best out of lockdown as he prepares to go Stateside, leaving behind the dishes and gardening to his brothers Malachy and Bobby. He spoke to Brendan Crossan about trying to be the best he can be on and off the pitch...

YOUNG Malachy Burns has been here before. So too has his elder brothers Bobby and Patrick.

Talk to any of one of these fine young men and you’ll see the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

As Patrick looks forward to spending the next four years at the prestigious University of Notre Dame in Indiana, the young Glenavon defender has made the best of the lockdown months.

Living just outside Crumlin in Co Antrim, lockdown has allowed the three brothers to revisit their childhood again.

“We’re blessed to have a big garden out the back and that we have a bit of space to ourselves,” Patrick says.

“I can’t imagine people who are living in a flat – that would be the very definition of grim. So I appreciate we’re very lucky. During lockdown our Dad thinks we’re full-time gardeners and mum thinks we’re full-time cleaners, so that’s a bit problematic.

“Our dishwasher broke at the start of lockdown, so mum has been creating this Rota and the questions have been who’s doing the easier dishes – breakfast, lunch and dinner. We’re going through more dishes because we’re all here which doesn’t help.”

While Bobby, the eldest brother, ponders his own next move (he is still signed to Hearts who suffered relegation after a truncated season) and Patrick prepares to leave home, it was the youngest of the family who made the most sense during this surreal period.

“Malachy said at the dinner table that this would be the most time we’ll ever spend together as a family,” says Patrick.

“I never thought of that but it’s probably true. I’ll be in America next year and Bobby could be anywhere and once Malachy finishes school he’ll be at university somewhere.

“We’ll hopefully be together for the next while but nothing like this. For me, Bobby and Malachy it kind of feels like we’re 12 again, out playing and not a worry in the world, competing against each other in all sorts of sports out the back.”

Both Bobby and Patrick have tread the same path. Both starred for St Malachy’s soccer teams. Both played for Glenavon. Both are left-sided players.

Both were toughened up by loan spells at intermediate club Knockbreda and both came back to shine at Mourneview.

Both have also starred for Northern Ireland’s underage teams. Who is to say Malachy – seemingly the wisest owl in the house – won’t embark on a similar path?

He’s already on Glenavon’s books and has the gene pool to succeed.

Lockdown has enabled the middle brother – still only 19 – to press pause.

“Everyone will have their own view of lockdown and how it’s affecting them,” Patrick says.

“For me, I’m on a gap year and I wanted to focus on getting into a university like Notre Dame. So I’ve done that. I was doing a bit of office work in St Malachy’s and am back working there again.

“A lot of my friends did university exams, whereas I’ve been totally free and it’s certainly been a good opportunity in a number of ways.

“Throughout the day you make choices. You can live a very sedentary lifestyle and sit on your bed and watch Netflix all day which for some people is fine.

“For me, it’s been about trying to set goals and develop as a person in a number of ways, whether it’s physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually.

“Hopefully, all being well, I’ll be going to Notre Dame in August and into an environment which is more or less full-time and going in with lads who have been in that set-up for three or four years.

“So I’ve been trying like mad to improve as much as I can physically so I can hit the ground running.

“We’ve put emphasis on trying to develop as athletes [during lockdown] but at the same time it’s been great to spend time together and relax, reflect, read, refine a skill. Throughout the year I’ve found myself saying things like: ‘If there’s another day in the week I’d love to take this up or keep practicing that…’

“And now we’ve been given that time to use it as best we can. I was good at the tin whistle in primary school. So my wee brother actually bought one for me so I’ve picked up the tin whistle again and I’m trying to improve on guitar…”

He adds: “The down sides are you miss the changing room banter, going out training and seeing different people and playing the sport you love. To have that kind of freedom taken away from you, I’ve had to adapt, but I’m so lucky having two brothers who I can play with and compete against. I don’t think I’ve missed out too badly.”

Patrick is wise beyond his teenage years. Trying to juggle so many balls over the past 12 months, he decided to take a year out to look at his options.

The gap year has been great thinking time.

“For me and so many people, upper sixth is one of the most hectic years of your life. You’re flat out with your ‘A’ Levels, you’re playing for your club, you’re playing for your school team, I was playing for Northern Ireland, I was head boy in St Malachy’s.

“Last year I almost didn’t take the time to breath and I was so focused on trying to nail everything that I had going on. So I took a step back, I decided to focus on my football and then hopefully have a better idea of what I want to do.

“It needed to be done and for me to find out where I wanted to go. It’s a huge decision to make as you’re almost deciding on what you want to do with the rest of your life. What do you want to study? Where do you want to study? A lot of people look down on a gap year and those taking one.

“If done properly, it’s not exactly harmful. It gives you time to think and make a well-informed decision about what you want to do. Ultimately, you can have a far stronger CV as a result.

“The football was going well for me at Glenavon and a few universities were interested and that kind of got the ball rolling about maybe going to America. I looked into the level out there that I wanted to achieve and then applied to the university of Notre Dame. I’m on a full academic scholarship which is great.”

Derry native Conal Fagan, who played in the same Northern Ireland youth squads as Bobby, is currently studying at Notre Dame and has been a font of information for Patrick before he heads out there on August 10.

“Conal has been an unbelievable help. He’s been showing me pictures of the campus, telling me what it’ll be like and we’ve had a few FaceTime calls. The decision was easy enough. Although I’m gutted to be leaving the Irish League, it’ll always be there to go back to. I’m getting full-time free education, coupled with the opportunity to develop as much as you can, it was ultimately a no-brainer in the end.

“The university is hoping to start classes on August 10 and not take a mid-term break and finish at the end of November as they want to avoid students going off campus and coming back on it. Hopefully I’ll be out in August and I’ll be home for a longer Christmas.”

With the U19 European Championships rescheduled from July to some games being played across September, October and November, Patrick is confident his university career Stateside won’t hinder his chances of wearing the green jersey for the finals.

“I’ll be doing everything and more to put myself in the best possible position to make the squad,” he says.

Patrick is primarily going to Notre Dame for academic reasons but he probably couldn’t have chosen a better sports college than Notre Dame. He’s watched highlights and full games of his new team and he’ll be competing against the best soccer colleges on a weekly basis.

He’s also armed with an Irish League apprenticeship. Often sneered at by casual observers, the Irish League has become more professional, more technical and tactical over the last few seasons, which Burns has benefited hugely from having clocked up 22 first team appearances.

“The Irish League is a hell of lot tougher than people think. The people I’ve marked this year: Kirk Miller, Marty Donnelly and Ross Clarke, they’re probably good enough to be full-time pros.

“I was constantly learning in every single training session and match with Glenavon. It’s been a wonderful apprenticeship and I’m so thankful to Gary and all the coaching staff and team-mates who helped me.”

Just a few more weeks until he's liberated from the domestic Rota. Young Burns is ready to take flight.