Belfast Telegraph

To Australia and back in search of a first Northern Ireland cap: Bobby Burns on his move to Newcastle Jets

Bobby Burns was named on the bench for Northern Ireland earlier this month.
Bobby Burns was named on the bench for Northern Ireland earlier this month.
Gareth Hanna

By Gareth Hanna

Hearts full-back Bobby Burns is going round the world for a shortcut.

The 19-year-old has put pen to paper on a season-long loan deal at Australia's Newcastle Jets and he's hoping the journey to Oz can seal express delivery of a first Northern Ireland cap.

It almost arrived earlier this month when the former Glenavon man was named on the bench for the senior side's international friendly against Luxembourg.

He would remain amongst the substitutes for the duration of the 90 minutes, Michael O'Neill obviously not feeling the wanting glare from behind him.

"At 19 I'm doing ok but an inch is as good as a mile as my dad always says," Burns laughs, relaxing in his parent's busy house shortly before jetting off to the other side of the world.

The football boots by the front door tell the story of a home historically dominated by the sport and the P20 sun screen on the cabinet speaks volumes about the journey ahead.

His transfer down under is certainly out of the ordinary but, as he prepares for a potential debut in a friendly against Sydney FC on Saturday, it's one that, he explains, wasn't agreed upon lightly.

Burns, after consulting the likes of O'Neill, Hearts chief Craig Levein, Northern Ireland U21 boss Ian Baraclough and international hero Aaron Hughes, considered all the pros and cons.

The main upside, he says, is the promise of career progression; the potential to bring about that senior Northern Ireland debut and perhaps even a spot at Euro 2020.

"That would be my main career target at the minute," said the utility player who admits he has narrowed down his range of positions to left-back or central-midfield.

"To get one, I need to do well on the international front but mainly on the club front. That's one of the main reasons I've gone to Australia. It's a league that would match some of the leagues the other international boys are playing in.

"If I dropped down the leagues then you put yourself out of a chance. Especially with the Euros coming up, if there are a few injuries and you're playing at a decent level you might get a chance.

"There are risks. Michael said the move might make it more difficult to come back for international breaks and you're a bit off the radar but at the same time if I can play regularly; the end goal is to come back and play in the first team.

"The opportunities I've had so far have been class. It was great to be on the bench against Luxembourg but it whets your appetite to get that cap. It would be something that I would cherish forever. That's every young boy's dream isn't it?"

He's hoping the Australia switch will pay dividends on the club front too.

It had looked a few months ago like such a big move wouldn't be necessary to unlock a starting spot at Tynecastle.

After a loan spell at Livingston and injury problems, he enjoyed a run of starts at the end of last season, ultimately left out of the starting team for the Scottish Cup final despite impressive performances.

The emergence of 17-year-old Scottish left-back Aaron Hickey, who started the 2-1 cup final defeat to Celtic having only made his debut the week before, and the signing of Republic of Ireland international Aidan White, have limited Burns to just one League Cup appearance this season.

But he's hoping game-time down under can reshuffle Hearts' pack this time next year.

"I had other options in Scotland, England and back in the Irish League but the manager (Craig Levein) said that he felt this one was the best move and that if I did well there, I have a good opportunity to come back and play in the first-team," he explains.

"I could have stayed in my comfort zone and earned more money but it would have put me further away from the first team.

"The standard will be good. The Australian lads reckon it would be a similar standard to the Scottish Premiership, other than Celtic and Rangers. It was an option that might never come up again.

"The other reason was that they were just really keen to bring me in so hopefully that means they will play me regularly."

Burns will become the fourth Northern Irishman to play in the A-League and the second to represent Newcastle Jets, following in the footsteps of Jonny Steele, close friend Aaron Hughes (Melbourne City) and Terry McFlynn (Sydney FC).

Along with fellow 2019 recruit Wes Hoolahan, Burns admits he's more likely to work on his golf handicap than take up surfing.

Ultimately though, it's a move that would never have happened had Hearts decided to sanction a loan deal earlier in the window. Only giving it the ok in late August, options were limited to the Scottish Championship, England's lower leagues or a temporary return to the Irish League.

So, on a human level, it's easy to see why Australia was more appealing.

"This option came up and I jumped at it," he says.

"I think it will be a great life opportunity as well as a football opportunity. I can't say I've watched loads of games in the league but I've seen bits of it. There are a couple of Australian lads in the Hearts squad who spoke so highly about it.

"It is scary but it's exciting too. You're starting all over again and going into a new environment. I feel like I'm leaving so much behind but as my mum said it was the same last year when I went over there to nothing."

Armed with advice from mum and dad, it's a new and exciting chapter for teenager Burns.

Should it pay off as he hopes, there will be none more proud than Thérèse and Thomas when Bobby finally runs out at the National Football Stadium in Belfast.

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