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dad proud ‘In the hospital I promised him I would give my full focus to win an All-Ireland for Tyrone’ - Frank Burns

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Frank Burns of Tyrone lifts the Sam Maguire Cup

Frank Burns of Tyrone lifts the Sam Maguire Cup

Frank Burns of Tyrone lifts the Sam Maguire Cup

All-Ireland final day, and the Tyrone team sprint out of the tunnel, across the Croke Park pitch. The television cameras capture the moment in slo-mo and there it is.

Frank Burns. Pointing to the skies. To his father Patrick who passed away in early November, 2019.

“His last Tyrone game was in Croke Park two years ago when we lost to Kerry in the semi-final,” Frank recalls. “His last football game was when we were beaten by Galbally in the Intermediate final. I know he was looking down over us on the day.”

The young Patrick Burns met Kathleen Quinn from Pomeroy at the Ballymacscanlon Hotel outside Dundalk at a dance. From nearby Shelagh, he was smitten enough to move to the Mountains of Pomeroy when they married and had two sons, Frank and Brendan who would represent Tyrone. Motor Neuron Disease (MND) is devastating on everyone and while it beat Patrick, he wouldn’t let it beat his spirit.

“It’s becoming more common now. It was a devastating blow, I can only imagine how tough the illness is on the person, but the way Daddy was, he was a strong man, and kept himself to himself. The way he carried himself through that disease was inspiring, he didn’t let it get him down too much, not in front of us anyway. And when you see the likes of that, it makes you realise that the problems you face week to week and maybe moan about are only minor,” says Frank.

“One of the last things that I had said to him in the hospital, one of the things I had promised him was that I would give this my full focus and that we would win an All-Ireland for Tyrone. To have achieved that, is definitely very satisfying.”

Kathleen’s brother, Brian Quinn was a hurler for Éire Óg, Carrickmore and Tyrone. He is the proprietor of Rocwell Water, jersey sponsors of Tyrone for the 2005 and 2008 All-Ireland finals. It gave Frank and Brendan ringside seats for the glory decade. When it came to the All-Ireland-winning banquets, they would gaze at the likes of Peter Canavan, Joe McMahon, the Cavanagh brothers, awe-struck and dumb-struck. But that’s him now to the children around the county. The other evening he was shopping in ASDA in Cookstown when people came up and started engaging him in chat. It will take a bit of getting used to.

It hasn’t sunk in yet. He thinks it might only when the Sam Maguire Cup comes to Pomeroy. He has it booked to bring to Anne Donnelly, a local wheelchair-bound lady who even by Tyrone standards is a total fanatic, someone Frank is very close to.

After that, Brian Quinn will get to hold it once again, and then he has to bring it to his father’s people down in Shelagh, on the way to his uncle Frank’s bar, Toners in Dublin. There were moments when he felt this All-Ireland was out of reach. It was the same before the Ulster final when he missed out himself through Covid.

“I was one of the players who had it bad. I got it 11 days out from the Ulster final. So in my head, I would be OK to play a game on the Saturday,” Burns reasoned with himself.

A personal trainer by profession, he went out to his home gym to get a sweat on, after five days. It left him exhausted. “The Covid situation was a tough one for the whole team. People on the outside are going to have their opinions, but it was dealt with really well. Player health was put first and it was all to do with player welfare, it couldn’t have been dealt with any better, our medical team were exceptional,’’ he says.

He spent the four weeks between the provincial final and the All-Ireland semi-final driving himself to his limits. On the day, a late team announcement came; he snuck back into the starting team at right wing-back. He lasted the full gruelling game and extra-time.

And then onto the final. Specifically, the 40th minute when he caught Mayo’s Ryan O’Donoghue with a high tackle. He got a yellow but was pleading with Joe McQuillan not to fish out the black card. O’Donoghue took the free himself. It fell short, landing at Burns’ feet on the line. He scooped it off the deck. Penalty. O’Donoghue again. A stuttered run-up and it shaves the post in going wide. Patrick Burns was looking down on his boy. After that, the final whistle.

“It’s indescribable. There’s that many thoughts and emotions running through your head. The first person comes near you, you embrace them and hug them. To see your friends, your clubmates in the Hill, and then we went along the Cusack and I saw Anne and Geralyn Donnelly! Uncle Brian in the Hogan, my mum, my girlfriend, people who are so close to you and mean so much, it’s invaluable to share that moment with them. They are the people who believed in you.”

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As Frank strolled round the pitch, young Patrick Traynor was beaming at his heroes. A quick look at Pádraig Hampsey and they lifted him over the hoardings and onto the pitch to pose with the Sam Maguire. “That’s what it is all about. Patrick was sitting with his dad. People like Patrick deserve a moment like that and we are forever grateful to the likes of Patrick and the rest of our supporters.”


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