FOR the first time since he started in the under 9s, Trent Burns will not be lacing up his boots for another season in 2014.
The Berry Magpies 42-22 win against the Batemans Bay Tigers last weekend closed the curtain on a stellar career, spanning more than 25 years.
Burns first played as a nine-year-old and switched between Bomaderry and Nowra in his junior days, depending on who had a team that year.
He progressed through the junior ranks to play Harold Matthews Cup for the Illawarra Steelers and then SG Ball, where he captained the side.
But his proudest moment in his younger days came when he was selected to tour Papua New Guinea with the Australian Schoolboys, while he was at Bomaderry High.
With PNG being the only country where rugby league is the national sport, even as schoolboys they received the rock star treatment.
“When we got off the aeroplane there were people there banging on the gates and they just followed us everywhere, it was crazy,” he said.
“I got to meet some great people and play with some really good players who went on to bigger and better things in the NRL, it was really cool,” he added.
Burns too had his brushes with the big time, moving on to play Jersey Flegg and reserve grade for the Steelers, but fell just short of playing in the NRL.
“In those days you could actually back-up and they picked two reserves to sit on the bench,” he said.
“I sat on the bench for first grade a couple times, but I never got on though!
“I was pretty spewing, but that’s the way it goes sometimes.”
But it wasn’t just football keeping him busy as he had just become a father for the first time and had been given his first teaching post at Engadine after finishing uni.
Eventually there came a time when his heart just wasn’t in it when it came too football.
“I was leaving early in the morning and then getting home really late at night after training,
“I’d just had a young feller too and I just wanted to spend more time at home.
“Just at that time, the balance was out of whack with family and sport and I wasn’t prepared to keep missing out.”
The following year he joined Dapto in the Illawarra Carlton League, where he spent four very successful seasons, making the grand final every year and winning three in a row.
Despite his success in the Illawarra, a Group 7 premiership was one that had always eluded him.
He had some good years with the Shellharbour Sharks, where he got the opportunity to play for Country before a test match at ANZ Stadium, but never got to play in a grand final.
After his stint with Shellharbour, Burns joined Berry as captain/coach in 2006 and would play the rest of his career there.
The Magpies made the finals in every season under Burns as coach and in 2007 he came close to achieving the one that got away.
“In my first year as coach we missed out on the grand final by one game and in the second year we actually got there,” he said.
“We got absolutely smashed by a red-hot Albion Park side.”
While there may have been some temptation, Burns resisted the urge to try to play on until he won a premiership by announcing his retirement this year.
With 2013 being Berry’s 100th year, he wanted to be a part of it, but the signs had been coming for a while that it would be his last season.
Burns was one of the few older faces remaining in a youthful Magpies team, something he was often reminded of.
“It’s funny because there’s a couple of blokes like Marcus Rogers and Joshy Ingold who I can remember watching when they were in primary school and I was a selector and now I’m running around with them,” he said.
“I was sitting on the bench one time last year and the bloke next to me was like, ‘Mr Burns… you taught in the classroom next to me when I was in year three.’
“I was like far out, I’m getting old.”
Burns is now an assistant principal at Cambewarra Public School and is looking forward to putting his days of limping in on Monday mornings behind him.
Berry’s first grade coach Ted Bowley said the role Burns played at the club was outstanding.
“I would say he’s one of the last remaining old school footballers,” Bowley said.
“It was a credit to him to still be running around doing what he was doing at 35.
“All the young blokes loved getting to play with him.
“He’ll be sorely missed.”
Burns is looking to stay on with the Magpies in some capacity, possibly as coach of the under 18s next season.
But he was fairly adamant his playing days were over and he was comfortable with his decision.
“I’ve been thinking about it a bit and people will ask me if I have any regrets,” he said.
“There’s been highs and lows in my career, but you just appreciate the time you get to spend playing and the people you meet and the clubs you play for.
“It’s been good and I’m grateful to have been able to do it.”