Football, coronavirus and Australian life - Burns' spell Down Under

By Andy GrayBBC Sport NI
Bobby Burns
Burns joined Newcastle Jets on loan from Hearts in September

From bush fires to coronavirus, with plenty of football in between, Bobby Burns' time in Australia has certainly been eventful.

48 hours ago, Burns was in the squad for Newcastle Jets' game against Melbourne City. Now, he's just booked flights home after the A League was suspended due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The 20-year-old will have to be tested for the virus before embarking on a journey home which will span Newcastle, Sydney, Kuala Lumpur, London and finally Belfast.

"It's been a pretty crazy day trying to get everything sorted at the last minute," said Burns.

"I'm sad that my time in Australia has had to end so suddenly, but I'm really looking forward to getting home and seeing my family."

Burns' potential is well known in Northern Ireland, with the Crumlin teenager starting his footballing career at Glenavon before securing a move to Scottish Premiership side Hearts after some impressive performances in the Irish Premiership.

A loan moved to Newcastle Jets followed, and after a successful run in the side, it has been abruptly ended and Northern Ireland beckons once again.

As it has globally, coronavirus has impacted the A League and officials attempted to finish the season behind closed doors.

After several games with no spectators, a decision was made to suspend the league on Tuesday, a move which ends Burns' time in the country.

Newcastle Jets
The Northern Ireland under-21 international impressed in his short A League spell

"I just had to enjoy every game because you didn't know how long it would be your last one for," said Burns on his end to the season.

"I had just been trying to get as many games in as I can."

"It was mad here with the bush fires at the end of last year, it was absolutely crazy and was so smoky in the air.

"It's obviously frustrating, but you have to look at the bigger picture of what's going on in the world.

"It's been a pretty year surreal with the bush fires and the coronavirus. It's been a strange year but I've enjoyed it so much."

Australia could learn from the Irish League

Burns, who is a regular at under-21 level for Northern Ireland, believes Australia could learn from the Irish League's approach to young players.

"The Irish League was a great one to come through with," he added. "When I was 16, I was offered to go to Bristol City on a youth scholarship, but after speaking to Gary Hamilton and Paul Millar I wanted to learn in the Irish League.

Bobby Burns
The versatile midfielder turned down a move to Bristol City's youth academy to play for Irish League side Glenavon

"When you play youth football it is all about improving your skills, but being 15 and playing against men, you learning to play in pressure situations and that teaches you so much.

Burns admits he was "shocked" by the quality of Australia's top flight when he first moved over, but feels the Irish Premiership is a better set-up for players rising through the ranks.

"It's a different style, and it maybe doesn't have that explosive intensity, but the fitness levels here are crazy," said Burns.

"Players are running around in 40 degrees; they like to get the ball down on the deck and play."

"In Australia you can't sell players to other clubs in the league. There's little motivation to bring young players through and sell them on, so my Irish League experience was such a valuable one and it kept you grounded.

"You could have scored the winner at the weekend, and unlike here where you can live off that the next week in training, you were in the classroom trying to understand Pythagoras' theorem."

I want to enjoy my time here

As it would be for any young footballer, Burns admits that making the move to Australia was a big step, but he has thrown himself in at the deep end.

"Being in a flat by myself was one of the hardest things being over here," said Burns.

"I had to learn how to cook and clean, and there would be some days where I would be more homesick than others.

"But I really settled in after a few months. started volunteering with charities and I'm doing a university degree."

Burns describes Australia as "amazing" and wouldn't rule out a return to the country, even if he admits there is still no place like home.

"Even if I go back to the UK and it doesn't work out, I maybe have an option to come back out here to further my career," he said.

"I've flown across most of Australia, but you actually get to see very little of it.

"When we played Perth away, it was a three -hour drive from Newcastle to Sydney, then a five-and-a-half hour flight to Perth, with a three-hour time difference. All for a 90-minute match.

"I'd love to explore it more, like the Great Barrier Reef and go scuba diving, but Costa del Crumlin will always be home.

Christmas with Wes

Burns' bedding-in period was helped by having Irish natives Wes Hoolahan and Ray O'Donovan at the Jets.

His time in Australia was also aided by the visit of his Dad in March, along with some cousins from Sydney.

"My Dad was actually meant to come over in March, but luckily we changed it because we had back-to-back home games," added Burns.

"He lost his wallet on the first day, so I had to pay for everything and he had a great time.

Bobby Burns and family
Burns has had family visit him during his time in Australia

"I think he gave it to someone on the first day and then met up with them at the airport on the way home.

"I was sleeping on the floor for two weeks while he was here and it was a bit cosy sharing a one bedroom flat, but he got to see so much.

"It was great company. I've been used to being away with Hearts and the international breaks, but I do still get a bit homesick.

"I haven't seen my Mum in about six months, and my mates for eight. You can facetime them, but you do miss them and you miss the craic.

"The hardest day was definitely Christmas. I spent it with Wes Hoolahan, and my cousin who was in Sydney for a while, but it didn't feel overly festive.

"We were on the beach and it was 35 degrees. Wes cooked us a Christmas dinner it was all a bit surreal, but I'm so thankful for their help.

"You have to make those sacrifices. A lot of people would love to be out here playing football so I am very lucky."

I want to make NI squad

While Burns' move Down Under may have flown under the radar somewhat, he hopes it can boost his prospects when he returns to Scotland.

The versatile player was a fan favourite for the Jets and ended his time in Australia with several man-of-the-match performances

"It's such a tough industry to try and make your mark and create a reputation as a young player," said Burns.

Bobby Burns
A regular with the under-21s, Burns was called into Northern Ireland's senior squad last year

"I feel like I started to do that in Australia and I want to continue that back home.

"I'm hoping I can really push on when I get back. I'm a lot fitter and I've been working on my crossing.

"Now the Euros have been postponed to 2021, I'm hoping I can get back home and work towards getting back into the Northern Ireland senior team. That's my main objective.

"I've absolutely loved my year. From a social point of view, to learn from so many people and network has been incredible.

"There are a lot of ex-Premier League players and there was a run of about five games where every player I had marked had played at the last World Cup.

"That will hopefully stand me in good stead for coming back, and I want to establish myself at a club as big as Hearts."

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