Young Glenavon star Bobby Burns last night described his move to Hearts as a football dream come true, and he revealed his aim now is to follow boyhood pal Paul Smyth into the senior Northern Ireland squad.
Scottish Premiership side Hearts announced the signing of the 18-year-old on a three-year deal yesterday, confirming Friday's Belfast Telegraph story that he was on his way.
As he prepares for his final exams before leaving St Malachy's College in Belfast to begin his new career, the Crumlin lad said: "It's been my dream to play professional football all my life and it's brilliant to get the chance to do that for such a big club, who have such a good record of giving young players their chance."
His fee is believed to be in the region of £40,000, rising to £80,000, based on first team and international appearances over the next three years, similar to the deal that took his friend Paul Smyth from Linfield to QPR and Northern Ireland stardom.
It's also another financial boost for Glenavon, whose Europa League qualification, thanks to Coleraine winning the Irish Cup, is worth over £200,000.
Burns had been linked with many clubs during a season that saw him named Glenavon's Player of the Year. But he revealed two factors attracted him to the Edinburgh club that is also home to NI stars Aaron Hughes, Kyle Lafferty and Michael Smith.
"There was speculation all season but it was when I was called up to the Northern Ireland U21 squad that it really started," he explained.
"Michael O'Neill asked me to train with the first team and Austin MacPhee, one of the Northern Ireland and Hearts coaches, noticed me there. Then I made my debut for the U21s and Hearts registered their interest soon after. Austin actually said he saw me last year playing for Northern Ireland at the Milk Cup against Man United.
"Glenavon let me go over to see around and after that it was just waiting to see if the deal would get over the line.
"There were other clubs interested but I wasn't going to sign for a club for the money or for the status or size of the club. It was all about which club made me feel wanted and Hearts ticked both those boxes."
Burns added: “I spoke to Michael O’Neill and he said that, having played senior football, it was important to go somewhere that I had a chance of doing that rather than going into development football.
“When I went over to Hearts, I really felt like I was one of them and I was at home there. They were so welcoming and the Northern Irish players were great with me.
“The Scottish people are very friendly and hopefully all of that will help me settle in and not get too homesick.”
Burns will move on June 21 and go straight into training with the senior squad and a pre-season tour to Germany, under the watchful eye of boss Craig Levein and assistant manager MacPhee, the man on Michael O’Neill’s NI coaching staff who was so keen on Burns.
“It’s a big challenge moving into professional football at first team level and moving away from home, but I’m excited to overcome those hurdles,” Burns added.
“A couple of my best friends from home are moving to university in Glasgow so that should help with the homesickness as well. The first aim will be to get used to the change and try and get into the first team squad.”
Burns previously turned down a move into full-time football when he was 16 in order to continue his education. And he intends continuing studies at Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt University, where Hearts train.
His ultimate aim is to follow Paul Smyth, who he grew up alongside, into the Northern Ireland team.
“The dream is always to pull on that Northern Ireland shirt but I’m a long way from the first team yet,” he admitted.
“I want to consolidate my place in the U21s — I’ve only played for them once. If I can do that and progress at Hearts then the next goal is to get into the Northern Ireland squad.
“Michael O’Neill and all the staff have been brilliant and have given me great advice, but it will be a wrench to leave Glenavon.
“I love Glenavon, and I didn’t want to play for any other Irish League team, but I couldn’t turn this opportunity down.
“I rejected a move when I was 16 to finish my education but the time is right to go now.
“Gary Hamilton gave me my debut at 15 and they’ve always been brilliant with me. I’ve learnt so much from people like Kris Lindsay and Sammy Clingan. I really do think the club are set up for future success. There are other young players coming through. Then with the European money, maybe they can add one or two to the squad.”