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GAA President joins tributes to Eamonn Burns, the 'great ambassador'

 

Sad loss: The sudden death of Eamonn Burns has shocked the GAA fraternity
Sad loss: The sudden death of Eamonn Burns has shocked the GAA fraternity
Paddy Doherty
John Campbell

By John Campbell

GAA President John Horan has extended the sympathies of the Association to the family, friends, club and county team mates of legendary late Down boss Eamonn Burns.

"It was with great sadness that I heard of the passing of Eamonn - a man who has left a great legacy in the game," said the President.

"It was only a few weeks ago at the jubilee dinner on All-Ireland football final day that I had the pleasure of meeting Eamonn and his colleagues as we saluted the 25th anniversary of the great '94 Down team.

"The special bond between the group was very evident and Eamonn was a big part of that. Not content with being a part of an iconic Down team, Eamonn was a man who was committed to giving back.

"His club in Bryansford benefitted and in more recent times he was prepared to put himself forward to take charge of the county team for three years and pass on his knowledge to a new generation of Down players.

"On and off the field he was a great ambassador for our Association and we join our Mourne County colleagues and Gaels in lamenting his loss."

It is expected that immediately prior to Sunday's Down Senior Football final between Kilcoo and St Peter's, Warrenpoint a minute's silence will be observed as part of a tribute to the late Eamonn.

The word 'legend' tends to leave our keyboards and our lips with much greater frequency nowadays in a sporting context.

But when the greatest of the Down greats, the peerless Paddy Doherty known to all and sundry as 'Paddy Mo', refers to the late Eamonn Burns as "a true legend because of the person he was" we can see where he is coming from.

The iconic Bryansford clubman may have pocketed two All-Ireland medals in 1991 and 1994 but the eighty-something Doherty, still as sharp as a tack, prefers to heap credit on Burns the man as much as he admires him as a player.

"What very, very few people know is that in the build-up to one of the All-Ireland finals - I won't say which one - Eamonn was quietly nursing an injury but such was his passion for Down that there was no way he was going to miss the game," recalls Doherty.

"For me, that said much about the man he was. He ran the risk of maybe breaking down but through sheer will-power, courage and strength of character he came out triumphant.

"He was never one to look for sympathy or seek comfort. He stood on his own two feet and took what came at him. And when the going got tough he was always in there doing his bit for the cause.

"When you have a man like Eamonn in your corner, how could you fail to come out on top?"

Doherty, whose phenomenal scoring exploits for the Down teams that won the 1960, 1961 and 1968 All-Ireland titles still retain a place of honour in the record books, followed Eamonn's career from when he took his first faltering steps with Bryansford as an under-age player until he called time on his term as Down manager last year.

And today, as he reflects on the four decades of service that the quietly-spoken, courteous Eamonn rendered to the GAA as a player, manager and volunteer helper, Doherty is in no doubt as to his status.

"Yes, he was a legend," stresses the former Ballykinlar star. "Not just because he was a whole-hearted player who gave everything for the cause at club and county levels but because he was as honest as the day is long.

"He was a wonderful ambassador for our Association - honourable, dignified and respectful. In my book he was a true legend because of the person that he was."

In an era when the media had ready access to players, Eamonn never sought the limelight, preferring instead to fulfil whatever role with which he was entrusted quietly and unobtrusively.

It was in early July last year that he stepped away from the Down job to be replaced by Paddy Tally but he had continued to take a keen interest in the team's fortunes.

And he seldom looked better than when he joined his colleagues from the 1994 team to be feted at the recent All-Ireland final and before that at the Cavan v Donegal Ulster final to mark the silver anniversary of their epic success.

Doherty, still passionately following Down's fortunes, is in no doubt that Eamonn Burns will not be forgotten by players, officials and supporters in Down and indeed elsewhere.

"He has left a rich legacy both in a playing context and in the way he carried himself," says Doherty. "His memory will linger on."

D J Kane skippered the Down side that won the 1994 All-Ireland final and shared a special friendship with Eamonn and Ross Carr.

The team was considered to be ahead of its time and in winning the '94 title they made it four consecutive triumphs for Ulster as the Mournemen had taken delivery of the Sam Maguire Cup in 1991 before 'lending' the trophy, as Kane puts it, to Donegal in 1992 and to Derry in 1993.

 

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