Earlier this week, Hearts completed the signing of Northern Irish teenager Bobby Burns. Patrick McPartlin looks at what the Jambos are getting in the 18-year-old...
He’s a versatile player
Burns has played most of this season as a striker, playing just off team mate Andrew Mitchell.
He’s played nearly 40 games for the Mourneview Park side, scoring eight goals and notching 14 assists in all competitions - the most in the league. It could have been more, had he not also played at left back and left midfield.
For comparison, Daniel Candeias currently tops the assist table for the Scottish Premiership with ten, while Hibs playmaker Scott Allan has seven.
Despite his more attacking role for Glenavon this season, player/manager Gary Hamilton’s approach to games means Burns is still defending as much as he would be in the Lurgan Blues’ rearguard.
“The way Gary plays, playing up front is not much different - you are still pressing and you are still doing a lot of defensive work,” Burns said in October last year.
“I can play there, or left back or left wing as well. Obviously I’d love to nail down a position, but as long as you are playing you’re happy.”
He rarely plays in his preferred position
While Burns came through the ranks on the left, primarily in defence with Lisburn Youth and Cliftonville’s academy, and as a holding midfielder or winger on the schoolboy international stage, it was a loan spell with Knockbreda in the Northern Irish second tier, where his eye for goal and composure in attack came to the fore. He was deployed up front and hit eight goals in as many games as he helped secure the struggling side’s NIFL Championship status.
In a wide-ranging interview with BelfastLive last year, Burns said: “I don’t really mind where I play, I would play nets if I had to just to play in the Irish League but if I had to pick I’d probably say centre midfield.
“That’s where I think I’m at my best; [the manager] has been playing me up front but it’s kind of in the No.10 position. I scored in my first game up front for Glenavon and I’ve just kind of stayed there.”
Rochdale and Bristol City were interested
Burns was being tracked by both Rochdale and Bristol City last year, with both clubs making firm offers in the summer.
But he turned them both down, only too aware of the vast numbers of young Irish footballers before him who made the short trip to England only to return not long after, having failed to make the grade.
He admitted last year that he would “love to try and go professional” but was happy to bide his time and combine his studies with playing for Glenavon.
When Hearts came calling, there were other teams keen on Burns but less willing to commit to a deal.
“There were other clubs interested but I wasn’t going to sign for a club for the money or for the status or size of the club,” Burns said.
“It was all about which club made me feel wanted and Hearts ticked both those boxes. I couldn’t turn this opportunity down.”
He’s ambitious but grounded
As well as rejecting Rochdale and Bristol City last summer, Burns also turned down a move when he was 16, having broken through as a promising 15-year-old. The former head boy at St Malachy’s College is also planning on sitting his exams before relocating to the Capital on June 21 and, had he not secured his dream move to Hearts, was hoping to study maths at University College Dublin (UCD) or Queen’s University in Belfast.
He told the Belfast Telegraph earlier this month: “I haven’t done as much revision as I should have but [the move] has been a distraction. Even when you’re not on the phone talking about it, you’re thinking about it.
“At least I don’t have any grades to get for university but I still want to do well,” he added.
He’s already played for Northern Ireland Under-21s and, having caught Austin MacPhee’s eye, was invited to train with the senior squad - alongside future team mates Aaron Hughes, Kyle Lafferty and Michael Smith.
Describing it as a “great experience” he added: “I look at them on TV and think they’re superstars but when you play with them and against them, you get the confidence that you can be as good as them.”
He isn’t letting it go to his head, however. Speaking about his move to Hearts, Burns said: “The dream is always to pull on that Northern Ireland shirt but I’m a long way from the first team yet.
“I want to consolidate my place in the U21s — I’ve only played for them once. If I can do that, and progress at Hearts then the next goal is to get into the Northern Ireland squad.”