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Paddy Burns: ‘A leader on and off the field’

Looking at Paddy Burns’ resume through two and a half years of collegiate soccer, you’d be excused for thinking he was one of the most coveted recruits around before his enrollment.

Now a junior, Burns has played nearly every minute he’s been available for each of the last two seasons. A leader on and off the field, Burns’ composure was a key reason why he was the only underclassman to take a penalty kick in the Irish’ three postseason shootouts in 2021. 

He tied for the team lead in assists last season, the only defender on the roster to lead the team in any offensive category. Displaying a knack for coming up in big games when he was needed the most, the left back totaled a pair of goals as well as an assist in Notre Dame’s College Cup run, including the Irish’s equalizer in their quarterfinal showdown with Pitt.

His strong form carried over into 2022. He currently leads the Irish in goals despite exclusively playing as a fullback in Notre Dame’s back four. He’s been defensively sound, a mark of consistency on an Irish backline that’s steadily improved.

With such a stacked resume in such a short career, it’s no hard feat to imagine him being a prized recruit who the Irish had to battle hard to win. But that couldn’t be less of the case. In fact, Burns wasn’t recruited at all.

Hailing from Northern Ireland, Burns’ exposure to coaches and scouts in the American collegiate system was nonexistent. He racked up a wealth of on-pitch experience and accolades in his native Crumlin, captaining Northern Ireland’s U18 squad on multiple occasions and captaining his school’s team for seven years from 2012 to 2019. 

But without a collegiate scouting network in Northern Ireland, when he decided collegiate ball would be the best option for him, it was a shot in the dark. Burns only applied to only one college through the regular student admission process: Notre Dame.

“It was just Notre Dame, I honestly didn’t really know of any other colleges in America,” Burns said. “One of my best mates went to Duke, Lewis McGarvey who plays for their soccer team, so I knew of them. But my knowledge of the college system, college soccer and college sport in general, was pretty limited. I just knew this place had such an outstanding reputation, and then as a proud Irish Catholic, the mission of Notre Dame appeals greatly to me.”

Thankfully, Burns had perhaps the most on-brand guide to life at Notre Dame possible: then-Leprechaun Conal Fagan. But even with Fagan’s guidance, Burns knew his decision to head to campus was a bold one.

“I heard of Notre Dame through another Irish guy, who was a junior at the time, Conal Fagan, and he was the Leprechaun,” Burns said. “He was outstanding helping me through the application process and telling me about Notre Dame. But with COVID, I couldn’t fly out here… it was a leap of faith, honestly, I stepped off that plane in O’Hare airport in Chicago and didn’t know what I was getting into.”

Burns had no contact with the Irish coaching staff prior to being accepted into the University through the standard admissions process. But seeing his accolades in Northern Ireland, the coaching staff couldn’t say no to the unconventional new recruit. 

“Thankfully, I got in and got accepted to this magnificent place,” Burns said. “And when I got in, I emailed the coaches and they sort of took a chance on me and said they could take me onto the team. I’m just trying to repay the faith that they’ve shown in me. They put a lot of trust in me, taking me onto this team.”

Burns knew that his leap of faith wasn’t without risk. Moving across an ocean to an American University 3,500 miles away came with an understandable fear of homesickness. But the junior credits the program’s culture for making his transition as seamless as possible. 

“My time here wouldn’t be as great if it wasn’t for this soccer program… the family atmosphere here is just outstanding,” he said. “I’m so happy I’ve come here. One of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”

And last week, after two and a half years, Burns’ actual family was able to witness his Irish soccer family. His parents made the trip to South Bend to witness him play in person for the Irish for the first time, and the junior didn’t disappoint. Burns notched a brace for the first time in his collegiate career.

“I wanted to do really well for them, and my younger brother who’s also a freshman at Notre Dame was watching, so that was just an added incentive. I was glad to get the two goals, but it was just a brilliant team performance,” Burns said. “Having my parents here was truly special, and I’m looking forward to catching up to them.”

Contact J.J. Post at jpost2@nd.edu.

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