Rob Burrow, Barrie McDermott And The Power Of Laughter

Burrow's takeover of Sky Sports’ rugby league coverage epitomised the courage being shown by a remarkable family
12:00, 28 Jun 2023

“He was always very private, shy and retiring, so what he has done while at his most vulnerable is just amazing”.

Barrie McDermott believes last weekend’s joyous Rob Burrow takeover of Sky Sports’ rugby league coverage epitomised the courage being shown by a remarkable family.

Daughters Macy, 11, and Maya, 8, helped regular host Brian Carney present the coverage of Leeds v Huddersfield in hilarious fashion.


Mum and dad were proud guests, and Leeds legend McDermott a key part of the tribute to his great friend.

McDermott formed a close bond with Burrow during the club’s iconic era of dominance that filled the Headingley trophy cabinet. Their little and large act both destroyed opponents and entertained the Leeds dressing room in equal measure. 

And McDermott has opened up to The Sportsman about that special friendship, and the planning that went into Friday night’s unique broadcast.

“I don’t think Macy and Maya understood the enormity of if until they were in it,” McDermott reveals of the special Sky Sports show. 

“But it didn’t phase them. They are just exceptional kids, both little actors, performers, dancers. They are just like their dad, taking everything as a challenge and meeting that challenge head on without being intimidated by anything. 

“The truth is they are that good, that confident and that used to being in the limelight now that they just felt at home. 

“There is a desire to help anything that Rob does. Sky, like everyone else, want to shine the right light on it and a lot of credit goes to June Fairhust, Brian Carney, Mark Smith and all the staff at Leeds. To come together like that on Friday was fantastic.”


McDermott has been a regular visitor to the Burrow home since Rob’s MND diagnosis in 2019, by his side now as he was through their playing days.

In fact the pair laugh as much now as they did back then.

“It is important to me and to him to laugh,” says McDermott. “That is the way our friendship has always been, me being the butt of his jokes and every four or five jabs I take off him I manage to get one back.

“He gives me lines that I have to say in commentary, like ‘needless to say I had the last laugh’ from Alan Partridge. I said it in a Castleford game when Leeds played them. I had been to see him in the afternoon and he told me I had to get that in, so I did, somehow, even though Cas won!”

This writer has been witness to many of these touching moments of friendship in visits to see Rob. And when Barrie and Rob laugh, it is proper, infectious, all-consuming belly laughter that absorbs the room. Often Rob has an insult prepared on the Eyegaze technology with which he communicates through his own stored voice, releasing the words at the perfect moment on McDermott‘s arrival. These are priceless moments, but such a natural friendship still takes strength.

“It is difficult,” McDermott admits. “I get in my car sometimes and you are either really upset when you leave as you are traumatically affected by what he is going through, or you come out inspired. There aren’t many emotions in between.”

“I remember reading that what happens with MND sufferers is that people stop seeing them because it is uncomfortable.

“I didn’t want to be one of those. I go because I know he appreciates it. I go for him.”

Despite knowing Burrow for most of his life, despite knowing the incredibly selfless nature that the wider world has since been allowed access to, McDermott says even he has been surprised by his friend’s reaction since diagnosis.

“What has surprised me more than anything is the way Rob has allowed everyone in to see this, as he was always very private, quite shy and retiring. 

“He has approached this like it is his job to shine a light on the MND community, especially those who don’t have the network of support that Rob does. What he has done by letting everyone in to see him at his most vulnerable, is just amazing and has really surprised me. 

“When you see him you know he is poorly. He is so frail, and sometimes that first impression can take your breath away. But very quickly you are met with a smile, a wink. He smiles with his whole face, the endearing nature that he has with those small visual things just puts people at ease. 

“What I find hardest to handle is that no matter what he is going through, his first question is always about me. He is an incredible example to us all that when the inevitable is staring you in the face the most important things are the faces and the people around you.”

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