Patrick Burns aiming for College glory with Notre Dame

Burns celebrating after semi-final win
Notre Dame captain Patrick Burns (Jeff Myers)

FORMER Glenavon rookie Patrick Burns is staring into one the biggest weeks of his sporting and academic life as he hopes to captain Notre Dame to the American Colleges National Championship glory on Monday night.

And after four years at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana, the Crumlin native wants to finish a tumultuous week as a fully fledged graduate of the prestigious college before aiming to win a full-time contract with an MLS club.

From a young age, Burns’s mantra has been ‘Have boots – Will travel’ - and with the MLS draft coming up on December 19, the 22-year-old defender hopes a 2023 College Cup winner’s medal will edge him closer to that dream.

Standing in Burns’s and Notre Dame’s way of only a second Colleges Championship in the university’s history – the first coming in 2013 - is 2021 victors Clemson Tigers of North Carolina at the Louisville City Stadium in Kentucky (Monday, 6pm local time), a team they have already beaten 3-2 earlier in the season.

It’s really a whole life of work going into one week.

—  Patrick Burns

Speaking from Kentucky on Sunday night, Burns said: “Years of hard work has gone into this week.

“Over the last four years, we’ve tried to get ourselves in contention for a national title and now that we’re just one game away, it feels a bit surreal.

“Within a week I could be a national champion and graduate from Notre Dame – they would be two massive accomplishments – and then I’m hoping to enter the MLS draft and see what happens from there.

“So, it’s really a whole life of work going into one week.

“But, right now, my focus is on getting over Clemson who are a very good team. It’s going to be a tight game.

“Historically, they know how to win games and conceded no goals in reaching Monday’s final, while we’ve conceded just one goal.”

Burns, a brother of Bobby Burns who plays at Glentoran, added: “This is the biggest game you can play in. Every year we set out to compete in it.

“This is my fourth year in college. Only 48 teams out of something like 211 make this tournament. In my first and third years we didn’t make the tournament but in my second year we reached the semi-finals and lost on penalties to Clemson.

“And now this year we’re in the final, only the second time Notre Dame has made it.”

While Burns is eyeing a contract with a top MLS club later this month, he is not closed to the idea of returning to an ever-improving Irish League.

“In the short-term, I’ll throw the kitchen sink at the football here,” he said.

“I’ve worked hard in trying to establish myself in the college system and I hope that some clubs have noticed and that I get an opportunity at a club to earn a contract.

“To play full-time is something I’ve always wanted to do. Obviously, I love the Irish League and watch it every week, but I want to play full-time football anywhere really. I’m not closed to anything. I’ve got my boots and will travel.”

Burns is hoping to graduate in political science and sociology later this week and feels he’s acquired so many more skills since leaving home.

“At St Malachy’s College, I was lucky to be head boy and to captain teams in football and Gaelic as well as Northern Ireland U18s, so I feel very blessed to had leadership experience coming out here.

“However, I think I’m a much more rounded person for being at Notre Dame and probably a well-rounded leader. The university offers some really cool courses. I took a sports leadership class with Muffet McGraw who is one of the best women’s basketball coaches of all-time, which was fantastic.

“Just being captain of Notre Dame and such a talented and committed group of lads has helped me become a better leader.”