Belfast Telegraph

Burns backs Blues to last pace in race for league glory

By Graham Luney

Aaron Burns is confident Linfield have the hunger and desire to "bring the Gibson Cup home".

Linfield sit top of the Danske Bank Premiership going into this afternoon's blockbuster battle with Portadown at Windsor Park and the question hanging in the air is can they smash Cliftonville's stranglehold on the biggest prize in local football.

The Blues' history, littered with trophy success including 51 league titles, tells you this a club which demands success.

But the league championship has eluded them since 2012 as the greatest side in Cliftonville's history have flexed their title-winning muscles.

The Reds are still in the hunt for three in a row - and indeed the clean sweep this season, a feat which though a tall order, is doable.

But with regard to the title charge, Linfield, Portadown and Crusaders are still focused on being number one when this fiercely competitive league is decided.

When the Blues lost 3-0 to Portadown on the opening day of the season they were in danger of being declared also rans and the knives were about to be sharpened. Fast forward to today and Warren Feeney's new-look team are top of the pile, a point clear of their nearest challengers.

Burns, who has been in sensational goalscoring form for the table-toppers, believes his side have the hunger to challenge for the title.

"Linfield teams need to be challenging for the title, that's the way things work here," said the former Portadown ace who should make his 150th appearance for Linfield today.

"I think Warren will strengthen the squad in January and I'm confident we can be there or thereabouts at the finish. There is real hunger and desire in the dressing room and I think that is coming through in the games. It's important that we show our attitude is right and as Cliftonville have won the title for two years in a row it makes us even more determined to bring the Gibson Cup home to Windsor Park.

"We are delighted to be top of the table but we are just past the halfway stage and it's important we go about our business game by game. Thankfully, I've been getting among the goals by getting in the right areas and the boys have been creating good chances for me. I've been getting some luck too and I'm just pleased to be making a contribution as there are a lot of good players at Linfield hungry to be involved.

"We play Glentoran on Boxing Day and I've great memories of my last minute winner at The Oval but I don't care who scores, as long as Linfield win matches."

However, while Burns can recall the stunning comeback against Glentoran, he can also remember the nightmare start to the season when Feeney's first league match in charge of the Blues ended in that spanking at Shamrock Park.

"That was a kick up the a*** the boys needed," added Burns. "It was a wake-up call and we could not perform like that in this league and expect to get results. We haven't lost an away match since that defeat and everyone has lifted their game. It was the eye-opener we needed and we are the better for it."

The Ports will arrive at Windsor today still smarting from last weekend's shock loss at Warrenpoint but Burns expects his old club to stay in the title hunt.

"Ronnie (McFall) has strengthened by bringing in the three experienced lads from Linfield (Michael Gault, Mark McAllister, Robbie Garrett) and I think that was missing from their squad last season," he added.

"I'm sure they will be there or thereabouts come the end of the season."

The Irish League often gets a negative press but the clubs, including Linfield, deserve immense credit for their wok within the community.

In Linfield's case, Feeney and some of his players visited Musgrave Park Hospital with presents to help lift the spirits of the children and their families.

Brothers Ross and Reece Glendinning paid a pre-Christmas visit to the Northern Ireland Children's Hospice in Newtownabbey to present a cheque for £740 to Linfield's official charity partner. The Hospice cared for the boys' mother Mandy before she sadly passed away earlier this year.

The donation means that the club and supporters have handed more than £20,000 in 18 months in various ways to this worthwhile cause.

And Burns, along with Portadown defender Chris Casement, visited the Daisy Hill Hospital children's ward in Newry to deliver gifts to children and nurses.

The duo both work as coaches with Burns Soccer School, a football coaching academy started by Aaron and his twin brother Andrew last year.

The School has agreed separate partnerships to work with Linfield and Portadown to establish schools' programmes.

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