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Eamonn Burns is the quiet man with a big say in all things Down

 

By Declan Bogue

The journalists hanging around the Pairc Esler changing rooms were kept late on a Saturday night and - full disclosure time - getting a little antsy as they awaited the Down manager offering his thoughts after his side had been hammered in front of the Setanta TV cameras by Donegal.

It was Eamonn Burns' first league game, a bit of a disaster, and he wasn't in the mood for talking, so he gave the impression that it was costing him a rate of a pound per word.

And from that moment until now, with Burns taking Down to Sunday's Ulster final against Tyrone, it has dawned on a growing number that we know virtually nothing of the Newcastle man, save for his occupation as a teacher and his role in winning two All-Irelands as a skilful, athletic midfielder.

There are few managers that simply don't play the game as he can.

READ MORE: Red Hands must match the Mourne men for intensity  

Last Friday at the Ulster Council's launch of the final in the Armagh City Hotel, he was in relaxed form as the question was put to him. Is he really that reticent?

"I wouldn't seek the limelight or glorification. It's just the way I am, my DNA, I seek to do things quietly and keep things ticking over," he replied.

He is married to Sinead Mullan, a daughter of Brian of Ballerin, who played for Derry in the 1958 All-Ireland final. Her mother, Madge Rainey, captained Antrim to an All-Ireland camogie title in 1956 and played until her 60s.

"She says she is a Down woman, but I have to take her word for it," grinned Burns.

They have two sons, Cathal (18) and Thomas (15) who attend St Louis' in Kilkeel, and while he says the current run is "exciting for them," he reminds us that, "you could imagine when they were going to school in February and March when we weren't going great, they might have got a bit of stick."

As a player, his former manager Pete McGrath describes Burns  as "very low-maintenance. Eamonn certainly was one of the quiet men. In saying that, he certainly was a good communicator".

He added: "There are some players who are high maintenance all the time just by their nature and their personality and even the way they play the game. In Eamonn's case he got on with it, he was here to train, here to work hard to realise the potential on any given day."

As a team-mate, Gregory McCartan had a unique insight. Though he was to later partner him in midfield, he had an early introduction.

"When I was 14, Eamonn taught me religion in school. It didn't work out too well for him, that one!" recalled the Castlewellan man.

"He comes across as very quiet, and he is a very quiet man but he was one determined player, I can tell you.

"He has had 18 months of hard press and whatever else. But he was one determined boy. A really fit fella, he looked after himself, (had) a great physique and he was quite outgoing when you got to know him.

"He was never much of a media man anyway. You had Greg (Blaney), DJ (Kane), Ross (Carr) who got more media attention whereas Eamonn just went about his business."

In the 1991 All-Ireland final, Burns was set up by Greg Blaney for two points, sliced beautifully over the bar with the outside of his right boot.

"He was a fantastic player," McCartan said.

"Sometimes other players get the plaudits and that day he kicked two amazing points, both on the run, both outside of the boot and it was the sort of kick I would have remembered playing with him for. He was the outside of a boot kind of player."

During the winter, Aidan Carr was trying to make his mind up whether to return to the county panel or not.

Becoming a father was one of the issues he had to weigh up, but he revealed: "Eamonn was great and said, 'whatever you need, let me know'. He trusts me enough to know I wouldn't take the p***."

Carr's father, Ross, and Burns have a strong relationship going back to their playing days. Aidan was also familiar in a football sense with Burns when he served as a selector under James McCartan's management.

When the criticism got hot and heavy, the way he handled it wasn't lost on the players inside the bubble.

"It was a tough situation he came into. As much as the players should have taken responsibility for what went on, he took the flak," recalled Carr.

"Any of the interviews he took part in, the first thing I noticed was that he was mentioning himself, taking the flak away from the players. He didn't really have to do that and he got a lot of stick from Down people, from non-Down people, the press."

Still. In this age of 'the manager', when every success and failure is attached to the figurehead of the group, Burns still seems an unlikely one.

But if we are to listen to McGrath, maybe he had his eye on this all along.

"I do remember Eamonn and I doing some kind of an interview in my first year in Newcastle before we played Dublin in a National League match," recalled McGrath.

"They asked Eamonn about his career to date and if he could ever see himself managing his county and he said he would.

"I am not saying he then went out of his way to publicise himself or put himself up there as a would-be manager, but certainly he was a man who would have had confidence in himself."

And here he is, ready to take his place on the same sideline as Mickey Harte. Ready to lead Down in an Ulster final.

In his own unfussy way.

Harrison fully fit for Down as punters are left guessing

Although it was advertised as a chance to hear the team first, the Down line-up was not named at the county board chat night in the Canal Court last night.

However, the big news is that Connaire Harrison is fully fit.

The Glasdrumman man is able to take the field and after his demolition job of the huge reputation of Monaghan full back Drew Wylie, his duel against Ronan McNamee will be of critical importance.

Last year, Tyrone coughed up a few goals against Cavan when they put high balls in, and Red Hands manager Mickey Harte will want Colm Cavanagh to shore up the area and prevent any goals being leaked, something they achieved during the league, keeping the sixth-meanest defence in the tournament. Tyrone have not named a team, choosing instead to wait until after today’s funeral of former county board Chairman, the late Pat Darcy, to release it to the media.

Monaghan team (v Carlow): R Beggan; F Kelly, D Wylie, R Wylie; D Mone, C Walsh, K O’Connell; K Hughes, N McAdam; G Doogan, D Malone, S Carey; O Duffy, J McCarron, C McManus.

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