Hearts defender Bobby Burns relishing all-Edinburgh showdown – after dodging flares in Northern Irish derby at SIXTEEN


Flares were launched, profanities hurled and bruising tackles abounded on derby day Shamrock Park.

All the while, 16-year-old Glenavon left-back Bobby Burns was lapping up every moment of it.

So it is no surprise to see him embrace Edinburgh’s most ferocious rivalry.

pic: heartsfc.co.uk

Having made his first Premiership start for Hearts in a 2-1 defeat to Hibernian in front of close to 20,000 fervent fans at Tynecastle earlier this month, he looks back on that Mid-Ulster outing against local foes Portadown with a renewed sense of perspective.

At the time, however, it was a daunting, onerous prospect – and one he stood up to.

“Lurgan and Portadown are right beside each other so there is always a bit of hostility,” he recalled. “You had to avoid the flares coming in around you!

“There is plenty of abuse but I love all that. You would hear some of the shouts and a bit of craic going back and forward.

“It [the derby] was a league game and I was still 16. There were maybe 3000 people there and, it might not have been as big as the Edinburgh derby, but at the time it felt like the biggest game in the world.

“I just tried to treat it as if I’m having a kick-about in the park. I would get a bit nervous before a game but, once it starts, I suppose I’m just quite lucky. I never really think about it.”

Suffice to say, he arrived at class the following day with a healthy swagger.

“I was still at school when I played for Glenavon – that was class,” he laughed. “I felt like a bit of a superstar going into school the day after a game. I’d be on BBC News – then I was back with my mates!”

Small-screen exposure aside, being pitched into senior football as a child – he was only 15 when he made his Glenavon bow – has proved a formative journey for Burns and has steeled him to compete for a first-team berth at Tynecastle.

His route could hardly be more different to the comparatively sheltered path many academy youngsters are afforded to the professional game.

“Playing those men’s games gave me great experience,” he continued. “I’ve taken a different route to most boys to get to this level because most of them have come through academies.

“Whereas, I’ve played about 75 mens’ games now at 19. I think it’s a better way to go. It was a bit of an eye-opener going into a men’s dressing room at 15, but I learned the real side of football – the ‘win at all costs’ mentality.”

That development as a player has now been supplemented by Burns growing up as a man.

He has been placed in digs alongside fellow teenager Alex Petkov under the watchful eye of host family Maggie and Ronnie Pagliarulo.

And, from paying the bills to knocking up a passable pasta, it has been a valuable experience for a young lad living away from home for the first time.

“A lot of people come over from Northern Ireland at 16 and struggle to settle,” continued Burns. “I think it’s helped that I finished my A-levels and came over at 18. And I’ve been lucky enough to get a really good host family who have taken me in as one of their own.

“Maggie and Ronnie have been really good hosts and helped me settle. Although, they’ve been in Australia the last month, so Alex and I had to learn how to cook and clean. I’m surprised we haven’t had food poisoning!

“No, it’s been a really good learning curve, on and off the pitch, to live away and be independent. Just having to pay your own bills, your car, learning to cook. All those things are new to me.”

Hibs were the side celebrating after the last derby

It remains to be seen whether Maggie and Ronnie tune into the Edinburgh derby from Down Under on Sunday.

Hearts head to Easter Road seeking to inflict a first defeat on Paul Heckingbottom’s Hibs in the league and, in doing so, make amends for their 2-1 reverse at Tynecastle in the last meeting between the sides.

Burns added: “It was a fantastic experience being involved at Tynecastle but it was just devastating to lose – so to win on Sunday would make it a lot more special.”