Tommy Burns changed our careers, rival managers agree

Michael Gardyne started as a Celtic youth player, crediting the late Tommy Burns for his success.  Picture: Paul Devlin/SNS
Michael Gardyne started as a Celtic youth player, crediting the late Tommy Burns for his success. Picture: Paul Devlin/SNS
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It says much about the legacy of the late Tommy Burns that both rival managers involved in today’s live televised Dingwall clash would list the Celtic legend as a career-changing influence.

Brendan Rodgers, the Celtic manager, has spoken often of how Burns set him on the road to top-level management after drafting him as Reading’s youth coach.

Opposite number Jim McIntyre, likewise, rates his stint playing under his “biggest” career mentor at the Madejski Stadium as life-changing, given the way it set him on the path to coaching and management.

But while the two occupants of the technical areas might owe Burns, right, a mighty debt of gratitude, one of the players performing in front of them today shares exactly the same lasting appreciation.

Ross County attacker Michael Gardyne has clocked up 377 first-team appearances since a youthful parting of company with Celtic a decade ago.

Frequently, though, when he steps out on to the field of play, Gardyne finds himself drawing on words of advice and guidance from Burns, his Parkhead youth coach, still echoing in his ears after all these years.

“Tommy was massive at Celtic, for me and for everyone else who passed through that set-up,” Gardyne said. “Everyone talks of just what a character he was, and he was that as well, but just from the coaching side, he was brilliant.

“He knew so much about the game and just loved helping young boys come through. I remember him stopping training games – the bits young lads don’t like – telling you where you should be on the pitch in relation to the ball. Wee things like that stay with you.

“Just look at some of the great players he coached early in their careers and where they are now. It was incredible.”

Gardyne has always had a streak of mischief, particularly in those carefree times at Celtic, and it was a character trait that, from time to time, infuriated Burns – mainly because he was acutely aware of the talent and potential in the Dundonian’s toes.

The Ross County attacker has matured over the years, though, bringing a level consistency to his play and a longevity that, at 31, has made him County’s all-time record appearances holder and top club scorer in the modern era.

Much of it he credits to Burns.

“It was a great upbringing. I played there from the age of 12 to 21 and that’s where I learned the game, under great coaches like Tommy,” Gardyne said. “It has obviously stood me in good stead for the rest of my career. I’ve done alright from it.

“I learned a lot there and, since I left, I’ve learned from new managers as well. But I think Tommy Burns was my main influence. It didn’t matter what age group you were in, he was always there – always conveying sound advice, the kind that stays with you.

“Willie McStay and Kenny McDowall were brilliant as well. I suppose it was a fantastic time, with Jim McInally at under-16 level as well. Every day, you were learning the game, playing alongside great players. Some of the guys I came through with are still playing and went on to bigger things as well.

“It just shows you how good the coaching there was and how well you were taught the game at Celtic.”

Rodgers and his team will be well aware that Gardyne represents one of County’s main threats today.

He starred in two of County’s three all-time victories over the Glasgow giants – the Scottish Cup semi-final win of April 2010 and last year’s return to Hampden for the League Cup last four triumph.

There is a keen appetite for more. Celtic, in Dingwall, is just the kind of occasion he relishes.

“In the last two games, we wanted to get six points but to get the four was decent,” Gardyne said. “It gives us a bit of confidence going into the Celtic game.

“Celtic are flying but it is 11 versus 11. In past games, we’ve threatened them and almost gone ahead, a case of what might’ve been. But we just need to make sure we’re set up properly this weekend and organised. We’ll take it from there.

“We can’t afford inconsistency at this stage. The other fixtures are a wee bit against us this weekend – Dundee against Hamilton, Motherwell against Caley Thistle – so if they pick up points and we don’t it puts a bit more pressure on us going into the last five games.

“These are the games you want to be involved in – against Celtic, the champions, live on television in Dingwall. I’m sure it will be a full house. We’ll be buzzing for it.

“You don’t get nervous for these games. We know how good they are and we know the way we need to set up to try to hurt them.”