A year ago Bobby Burns was finishing school at Belfast’s St Malachy’s College, where Martin O’Neill was once a pupil. Now the Hearts teenager is anticipating playing in front of 52,000 at Hampden Park next month in the Scottish Cup final against Celtic.
It has been a momentous, turbulent time for the former head boy with A levels in sports science, English and Maths. He is now studying Maths at degree level at the Open University with a view to taking on a director of football role when he finishes playing.
Craig Levein, pictured, who occupies this position at Hearts while also managing the team, can rest easy – there is plenty Burns wishes to achieve before then. A first priority, together with continuing to impress Levein, is winning the cup next month.
“I know I’m only 19 but this could be one of the biggest games you play in your career,” he said. “I was chatting to some of the senior boys in the team and they have never won a senior trophy. Even though I’m only young you have to appreciate that these opportunities don’t come around very often.
“This time last year I was finishing school,” he added. “It is an unbelievable turnaround. It is a massive achievement to reach the final and now we want to bring the trophy back to Edinburgh.
More comfortable at left midfield, Burns has filled in at left-back after a serious injury to Ben Garuccio. “As long as I’m on the pitch I don’t care,” he said. “I will play in nets in the final if I have to.
“An opportunity arose and when you are my age you just have to take it.”
As well as studying and settling in at a football club in a different country, Burns has had to cope with worry about his mother, Therese. She has been fitted with a pacemaker and was suffering from an infection when Burns was making the move to Hearts last summer. She was able to attend the clash with Rangers last month in which Burns made his return to the Hearts first team following a stint on loan with Livingston.
She was also at Hampden on Saturday to see her son, who was starting his second game in succession at left-back, help Hearts secure a place in the Scottish Cup final with a 3-0 win over Inverness. Burns excelled, taking the news his mum had missed the bus to Hampden in his stride.
“She was in the wrong suite so they had to turn it back and get here,” he explained. “It was her first time at Tynecastle, she was at the wrong suite and I was trying to sort that out before the game. She got here in the end, which was great.”
He stressed he owes everything to his parents. “I was from more of a rural area of Northern Ireland,” he said. “I played for a lot of clubs in the city and they drove me everywhere. They had no real social life. Their social life was the football. It was an hour, an hour and a half at times. They made a massive commitment to me and that’s why I want to make the most of the opportunity.”
His father, Thomas, plans to make it over for the final. The Maths student has a particularly testing puzzle to solve: how to get all his family and friends into the final? “I’ve already had hundreds of texts from family members wanting tickets for the final,” he said. “They don’t want them for Dundee away but suddenly they are all Hearts fans.”
Studying provides him with a distraction from the football, for which Burns was particularly grateful last week as Hearts suffered the pain of a derby loss to Hibs.
“You don’t want to be constantly thinking only about football,” he said. “Losing the Edinburgh derby last week, you would sit depressed for the whole week. It’s important to have something different.
“I’ve been doing it for a few months and I’m enjoying it,” he added. “You need to have a back-up, especially if you get injured. If things don’t go well, I’ve got something to fall back on, but hopefully it’s more something to think of at the end of my career.
“Maybe I can go into a director of football role with a business degree.”