AFTER just over three-months at Cliftonville, Paddy Burns has achieved more than others that have gone before him in the past 45 years. 

The Crumlin native was amongst the last pieces of Jim Magilton’s January transfer business, having returned Stateside following a three-year stint with Notre Dame in the Collegiate system. 

Burns followed in the footsteps of older brother Bobby and featured for Glenavon before his move to the US and the departure of Luke Turner to St Pat’s in January left a void in the Reds defence. 

Having worked with Burns in the NI underage set-up, Magilton saw Burns as Turner’s replacement and made him a signing before the window shut at the end of January. 

The sixth-round Irish Cup tie with Loughgall came too soon for the 23-year-old but he featured in the quarter-final win against Portadown, the semi-final against Larne and a overcame a groin complaint to start in Saturday’s historic win over Linfield. 

The former head boy at St Malachy’s recalls trips to Solitude as fan to watch future team-mates Joe Gormley and Chris Curran and felt that delivering an Irish Cup medal for a duo was incentive at the weekend, recalling.  

“Chris said in the changing room after, ‘Paddy I’d to wait 11-years for this’ – I asked why it took so long?” Burns revealed. 

“It’s great and it was a massive motivation for us today, to repay boys like Chris and Joe who have had an unbelievable career and given so much service to the football club. For me to come in and learn from them and to be welcomed into the group by people like Chris was a real honour. 

“I remember going to games with my mates from St Malachy’s to watch boys like Chris Curran and Joe Gormley, and so to be playing with them was amazing. I just thanked him after the match because he was great role model for me, but also just an amazing lad to play with and hopefully retirement treats him well.”

Burns came off the bench in the final half an hour of their late 2-2 draw with Glentoran at The Oval in February, having watched his older brother double the Glens lead before the break. 

He then became a mainstay in the team with nine further starts before the end of the league in the unfamiliar position of left centre back in a back three. 

He didn’t feel that his early performances were to scratch and paid tribute to his teammates and the coaching staff for having the faith to stick by him in those early weeks. 

“I feel very lucky just to be part of this fantastic group,” Burns admits. 

“When I came back, I was sort of thrown straight into the starting eleven, which was fantastic, because you were straight in, but at the same time it was probably six weeks since I had played a game. It was almost like I needed a wee mini pre-season. 

“The first few matches I was playing in that left centre back position, which I’d never done before. I was always a left wing back or a left back in a four and it is different. Having to get my fitness up, get used to a new position, new teammates and a new style of play, I think it was always going to take a few games. 

“To be fair, the lads rallied around me and helped me out massively. The coaching staff, even if I did have a poor match or two, they kept their trust and faith in me. I was always very eager to learn and put things right on the training pitch and I think I have grown into the role in some ways. 

“I’m just fortunate to be in an environment where you can grow in different positions and learn from pros like Chris, Jonny Addis, Joe [Gormley], Ronan Doherty and boys that have just been there and done it. 

“The collegiate game in America was definitely different to Irish league games. Luckily, I did have experience with Glenavon before going to America, but I think you are up to another level with Cliftonville when you’re playing games like this today. Thankfully, the manager has had faith in me today and I just really wanted to repay him.”

Prior to Burns and captain Chris Curran addressing the media, boss Jim Magilton revealed that the left-sided centre back was amongst a host of players that were unable to train in the build-up to the final, due to injuries. 

Burns himself admitted that he was struggling with a groin injury, but was determined to play through the pain barrier in order to get the job done against a Linfield outfit that were capable to dashing their dreams in the closing stages. 

“I try not to think like that but at the same time you have to look at Linfield’s quality to know that they can hit you back at any moment, particularly late on, so it is a case of just holding on in until the death,” Burns reflected. 

“The cramp, it was annoying, because I had been battling a bit of a groin problem the last few weeks and I wasn’t sure whether I would be fit for today. I took a couple of pain killers and then extra-time just felt like an eternity. I had faith that we would see the job out. 

“We’ve defended really well in the Irish Cup. I think we’ve only conceded one goal in the whole tournament. We had bodies back and we had lads that were just willing to do anything it took to get over the line. Even if you were playing through cramp or playing through injury, we had one mission today to get the job done and we had faith that we could do it.”

Older sibling, Bobby is coming to the end of his Glentoran contract and was amongst the 7,500 Cliftonville fans at Windsor Park on Saturday. 

Paddy expected that the midfielder would have received some stick from his fans and revealed that his brother refused to wear a quarter-zip that he had offered him on the morning of the game. 

“He was definitely in with the Cliftonville fans, so hopefully they gave him a bit of stick,” he joked.

“I actually left a Cliftonville quarter zip on his bed for him to wear today and he said no chance. I said, well at least wear red, so I hope he kept to that promise. He was definitely there and probably in with the fans, so he definitely got a touch of abuse I’d say.”