Richmond Park is packed and while the game plays out, hundreds of youngsters, from both sets of supporters, have turned their back on the action to form a line that snakes halfway around the pitch. Their target is Burns – who has been standing in the corner of the stand signing autographs and smiling for photos for over 45 minutes.
Left out of the Pat’s squad ahead of a medical with League One side MK Dons at the weekend, Burns had gone to last Friday’s game with his family and friends to support his team-mates and say goodbye to the fans.
“My legs were in a heap,” laughs the youngster as he recalls his final outing as a Pat’s player. “I’d been standing there for over 45 minutes. It was good to be able to give the time back to the fans. They took a shine to me from day one, so to give a bit of time to get pictures and sign autographs was a pleasure because they were very good to me.”
For the second half, Burns joined the fans in the stand, even banging the Pat’s drums and leading them in a rendition of “Oh Saint Patrick’s”.
“I was in there at the start of my Pat’s career,” said Burns of the crowd surrounding him. “I started as a fan, sitting behind the goals with my Da, so to finish my Pat’s career with the fans, supporting the boys on the pitch, was just brilliant. It was amazing to be there for my last time in Richmond before making the move. It’s a move I’m looking forward to making but it was great just being around the fans on Friday.”
Having come up through the ranks of Swords Manor, Shelbourne and St Kevin’s at underage, Burns first moved into the League of Ireland U-17 squad with the Inchicore club in 2018.
“I went there as a 15-year-old,” recalls Burns, who broke into the Ireland U-21 side this year having previously spent time in the Northern Ireland set-up. “Leaving Kevin’s to go into the League of Ireland youth set-up was a great achievement at the time and I was buzzing to take that step.
“I think the League of Ireland 15s, 17s and 19s is a great platform to get a taste of a professional environment. The demands are more serious but Kevin’s set me up well. Kevin’s was the best club in Ireland at the time.
“I always loved football but when I played for Kevin’s I knew I was at a club where I could actually go on and try and make a career out of it. The set-up there is brilliant. The likes of Ken O’Donohue, Mick McCracken and everyone in the club were very good to me. The club gave me great support and put time into me and I can’t thank them enough.”
Moving to St Pat’s though felt like moving home. In fact it was the third Pat’s team Burns had played for in his short career, albeit the other two were in a different code.
Burns won two Cumann na mBunscoil finals in Páirc Tailteann with St. Patrick’s National School, scoring 2-8 in the process, and also won a couple of Meath underage championships at Division 1 with his local St Patrick’s GAA club in Stamullen. At one time he even earned a call up to the Meath U-15s, an offer the Dublin-born player politely declined.
“Obviously football is my main love but I’ve great memories of the GAA. I used to play with the school and the club for a few years. It would have been my second sport. I loved playing Gaelic but I had to make a decision pretty early to focus on football. I was never going to play for Meath though,” he laughs. “It was only ever a blue jersey I would have stuck on. There was no chance of that happening.”
It was St Pat’s Athletic though where his career took off, his pacey style earning him a place in the first team and taking him to an FAI Cup final last year, where he was rewarded with a winner’s medal after a tough game versus Bohs was decided on penalties in front of a 37,000 crowd in the Aviva Stadium.
“Winning the FAI Cup was the by far the highlight with Pat’s,” he says without hesitation. “Winning the Cup with the lads and playing at the Aviva, which I had dreamt of doing since I was a kid … it was the best day of my life. I thought I was going to have a heart attack out on that pitch during the penos but the luck was with us on the day. Having my family, my friends there, the celebrations afterwards.
“I actually slept with the medal on in the bed that night and all. It was crazy. It’s something I’ll treasure for ever.”
Off the pitch, Burns is quiet, unassuming. He’s had the same tight circle of friends since primary school and admits to being a ‘mammy’s boy’ at heart. “The belief they had in me from a young age gave me the confidence to go out and play,” he says of his parents Joanne and James. “My Da used to bring me to the pitches around the corner for two and three hours a day after school. My Ma drove me to training and matches. You have to think to yourself ‘if they believe in me then I’m going to give this a go and see where it gets me.’ I’ve great family support, great friends. The support I have is unbelievable and without them all I’d be nothing. We wouldn’t be having this conversation.”
Linked to several clubs over the years, Burns will finally make the move to MK Dons today where an initial €180,000 fee will see him line up alongside compatriots Warren O’Hora and Conor Grant for the next three years.
“It’s excitement,” says Burns. “Obviously there’s a bit of nerves there because I’m leaving home. I’m a mammy’s boy so it won’t be easy leaving here, but I’m excited. It’s a move I’ve wanted to make for a while now. MK Dons are a massive club … one point off automatic promotion last year. They could have went into the championship but just fell short in the play-off.
“They’re a massive club, have a brilliant stadium. It’s a new journey in my career. I’m going into the unknown but it’s all part of that journey. It’s an experience I’ve wanted for a long time. It’s going to challenge me but I’m up for the challenge and I can’t wait to get going.”