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Hearts move was perfect to make my full-time dream come true, says Bobby Burns

By Gareth Hanna

Glenavon star Bobby Burns' move into professional football is a dream come true, but his ultimate aim is to follow childhood friend 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 on Monday.

In an exclusive interview with the Belfast Telegraph, the Glenavon Player of the Season was understandably in high spirits.

"I'm absolutely over the moon," he 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 playing young players."

Burns has been linked with many clubs during a season that saw him named Glenavon's Player of the Season.

But he discussed the two factors that 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 got called up to the U21 squad that it really started," he explained.

"Michael O'Neill asked me to train with the first team and Austin MacPhee 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 NI at the Milk Cup against Man United.

"Glenavon let me go over after the Linfield game to see around and after that it was just waiting to see if it would get over the line.

"There were other clubs interested but Hearts were the one club who really made me feel wanted and that meant a lot. They wanted to get the deal done quickly, whereas other clubs maybe wanted to see me play a bit more and weren't as sure.

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Bobby Burns signs his deal under watchful eye of family and Hearts manager Craig Levein.

"I wasn't going to sign for a club for the money or for the status of the size of the club. It was all about which club made me feel wanted and which club had a good record of giving young players a chance in the first team. Hearts ticked both those boxes.

"I spoke to (NI boss) 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," continued the thoughtful St Malachy's College Head Boy.

"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 get used to the change and try and get into the first team squad."

The talented and hard-working Crumlin man turned down a move into full-time football when he was 16 in order to continue his education.

If that's a mark of his grounded nature, even more so is his desire to continue some studies at Edinburgh's Heriot-Watt University, where Hearts train, after he makes the move across the Irish Sea.

Burns knows his mind and knows where he wants to go. And he knows, too, the ultimate aim of his footballing career - to follow Paul Smyth, who he grew up living alongside.

"The dream is always to pull on that Northern Ireland shirt but I'm a long way from the first team yet," he laughed.

"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 of course the next goal is to get into the Northern Ireland squad.

"Football's like climbing a staircase, every step you take, the next one seems closer and not as big a jump.

"Michael O'Neill and all the staff have been brilliant and have given me great advice and probably have recommended me to clubs as well. I owe a lot to them."

If he's clear in his thoughts looking forward, he's clear in his feelings of the past and the wrench that it is to leave Glenavon, who he joined from Cliftonville back in 2015.

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Glenavon has a special place in Bobby Burns' heart.

"I love Glenavon and I didn't want to play for any other Irish League team," he said. "I'm devastated to leave 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.

"It's a great family and I get on with everyone at the club so well. They could have asked for more money for me and obstructed the move but they didn't do anything like that and I really have to thank them for that.

"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. Any time I even had personal issues or was stressed with exams, they were very understanding and let me have whatever I needed.

"I really do think the club are set up for future success. There are other young players coming through and hopefully me leaving can open a door for the likes of Robbie Norton. Then with the European money, maybe they can add one or two to the squad."

There are big dreams to look ahead to, big achievements to look back on. But until he boards the plane on June 21, there are exams to tackle.

"I haven't done as much revision as I should have but it's been a distraction," he mused, genuinely still concerned about his books. "Even when you're not on the phone talking about the move, you're thinking about it.

"Once I get all the thank-you messages replied to, I'll have to knuckle down.

"At least I don't have any grades to get for university but I still want to do well."

Burns is right to take care of every eventuality, but given his hard-working nature and undoubted footballing prowess, the move to Hearts is the latest step on a footballing career that only looks to be going one direction.

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