Jarlath Burns: The club man going to the top so he can bring it all back 1 month ago

Jarlath Burns: The club man going to the top so he can bring it all back

Silverbridge is like a Joe Brolly wet dream.

Genuinely, it's an ideal of the GAA. This is a small area in the south of Armagh - not even at village status, not even with a parish of its own - and it can host 850 people on a Saturday night for a Whistlin' Donkeys concert.

It can hold more people in a bar alongside that. Others can go to the quiet pub next to that if they fancy something a bit calmer. By day, there's a full-time Naíscoil in operation - two teachers, 16 children. By summer, an Irish college.

A stand mans the main pitch up above, overlooking two training fields - one of them the size of Croke Park. There's a function room in the top floor too - above the gym - and there's a gallery to look down onto the sports hall.

The changing rooms are fitted with ice baths plunged into the ground. The walls decorated in rich tradition, Scór memories, momentous jerseys, teams of past and pictures of when this place was one patch of grass and one building with two rooms to change in.

Now, they hold Big Breakfasts here because they have hotel-sized kitchens. There are Boot Camps three nights a week. Dinner evenings. Card games. Their membership for the club stands at 30 euro for the year because why would they use that as a fundraiser?

All in all, this proud and magnificent empire is worth over three million pounds. And they put it all together themselves for about four hundred grand. Not a penny spent on labour. Every single brick laid by a volunteer. The plumbing, the electricity, all of it put together by Silverbridge men and women.

This is where Jarlath Burns comes from.

There's a WhatsApp group comprised of some of the most fiercely loyal club people you could wish to meet and it's there to share media clippings of Burns' campaign to become Uachtarán of the GAA. For the most part though, they'd all tell you they're rooting for Larry McCarthy. These boys won't let Jarlath Burns get carried away with himself.

The Ulster-winning Armagh captain has the opportunity to break some sort of rare record by becoming the first president who's still secretary of his club. On the WhatsApp group though, they don't fancy his chances of being re-elected to the club committee at the next AGM.

Damian - Daisy as they call him - will slag his kick passing and he'd make you laugh just with a perfect facial expression about an achievement of one of his best friends. At the same time, he'd be the first person to tell you that Jarlath has a hand in all of what they've built here - and it's more than a club, it's a life.

You can tell Mickey doesn't rest, not when there's something to do around the club. He's rolling up the curtains to let the light into the hall to show it off in all its splendour.

Rory doesn't want to be on camera but he wants you to know that Jarlath spends hours in the kitchen with a pair of rubber gloves on washing every dish whenever there's an event on at the club. And he doesn't do it to be seen to be doing. He does it because this is who he is.

At Croke Park, the man they're tipping to lead the organisation in this new decade fixes a mat on the floor as he chats and moves on. Burns is headed for the top but he leads from the ground floor - that's what real leaders do. They put others before them, they put the cause first. They charge on the front line, they eat after everyone else and they set an example.

It's not a polished line when Jarlath Burns says he wants the best person for the job, whoever that is. None of his life up until this point and his life as it is suggests that he doesn't honestly wish for that.

Burns is coming with three priorities

  • to make county players train less with their counties throughout the league to help the club, to help the colleges and to help the players in the middle of all of it.
  • to address demographic reality - expand in the towns and develop an amalgamation toolkit for rural areas.
  • to make sure the GAA is getting what it is owed from the Irish government for how important it is in every aspect of this country's being.

You might not agree with all of his ideas, you might think it's going to be hard to police training just twice a week - but Burns isn't interested in bringing about a decline in the inter-county standard, he isn't intent on pissing anyone off. All he genuinely wants is to help more players play and help the clubs and, through that, he wants to maintain the growth of the inter-county game. People follow someone with good intentions.

It's a tough job but he's the only man capable of it. Why? Because this has been and it is, put simply, his whole life.