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Dublin: 15 °C Monday 10 August, 2020

Ex-Villa defender Devine finding his feet at Shamrock Rovers after 3 years out of football

It was a baptism of fire for the young centre-half at Oriel Park last Friday, but Stephen Bradley believes he’ll soon be one of the best players in the league.

Devine at Tallaght Stadium yesterday.
Devine at Tallaght Stadium yesterday.
Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

DANNY DEVINE COULD hardly have asked for a tougher introduction to the League of Ireland.

Last Friday night, the Dubliner was handed his competitive Shamrock Rovers debut for the trip to take on champions Dundalk at Oriel Park.

Named alongside David Webster at centre-half, Devine made a couple of timely challenges but was caught in possession by Patrick McEleney, who crossed excellently for Ciaran Kilduff to nod in what proved to be the winner.

A baptism of fire, the game will serve as a valuable lesson for the 23-year-old and he knows there’s plenty more to learn, having only joined the club at the back-end of last season after a lengthy spell out of top-level football.

“That was my first professional game and my first since I left England three years ago,” Devine told The42 yesterday.

“The more games we get together the better understanding we will have. It’s good to have experienced players in Simon Madden and David Webster to my right and left.”

Michael Duffy and Daniel Devine Beating Michael Duffy to a header last Friday. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Devine originally hails from Templeogue but later moved to Old Bawn in Tallaght. Showing talent from a young age, he joined Crumlin United as a schoolboy and also lined out for local GAA club St Jude’s as a gifted hurler and Gaelic footballer.

In 2009, he was snapped up by Aston Villa and by the following year was a regular alongside fellow Ireland youth international Derrick Williams in their U18s side. Devine scored two goals en route to the FA Youth Cup final, where they lost 3-2 on aggregate to Chelsea thanks to Conor Clifford’s late winner.

Despite becoming captain of Villa’s U19s and featuring in the NextGen Series, a European tournament featuring some of the continent’s top clubs, a bad knee injury sidelined him for a full season.

He would miss out on their victory in the competition in 2013 with current team-mate Graham Burke, former Hoops striker Mikey Drennan, and ex-Ireland U21s pair Samir Carruthers and Jack Grealish all starring.

At 20, Devine returned home needing a second operation and decided to put football to one side indefinitely following the setback.

That was until Cherry Orchard came calling.

“I just started playing with Cherry Orchard after a phone call from Declan Hevey, who is the old U19s coach here (Rovers),” he explains.

He asked me to come down and I’ll always be very grateful for those lads for helping me get back playing.”

Just like in the case of players such as Brandon Miele and Richie Towell, a brief spell in the rough-and-ready Leinster Senior League saw Devine rediscover his love for the game while getting the chance to experience the physicality of senior football.

He recalls: “I’ll always remember my first few games for the Orchard and thinking ‘this is proper football’. 30-odd-year-old strikers let you know you’re in a game and you even have a lot of ex-League of Ireland players playing. It’s a good standard.”

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Soccer - NextGen Series - Group 4 - Aston Villa v PSV Eindhoven - Villa Park Devine captaining Villa's U19s. Source: EMPICS Sport

After returning from a holiday in Thailand last summer, Devine signed for Firhouse Clover but only played one game before Stephen Bradley got in contact.

“The gaffer rang me and asked if I would like to go up training. I just really wanted to get back fit and I’m thankful they have had patience with me because when I first came in I was very unfit.

Now it’s just about getting the experience. I was over at Villa playing reserve football and U21s so it’s a big difference as you’re playing against proper men here and the games mean more.

“You don’t realise how much you miss it until you start playing again and then it’s clear you missed it a hell of a lot. Hopefully I can do the business on the pitch for the club.”

Bradley is clearly a big fan and the Hoops head coach has put his faith in Devine. There’s no doubt that it’s a bit of a gamble, but he is certain it will pay off.

“I love him and what he brings to us,” Bradley said. “He’s the most honest person you’ll ever meet. He’ll give you everything on the pitch and he will defend with his life.

“He’s a really good character and a proper defender. He would kick his granny! I spoke to a lot of people at Aston Villa and they were raving about him. He will be excellent for us.

“Friday was his first game at any sort of level and people don’t see that. They might just see a mistake here or there and have a go at him. For me, in six or eight weeks you have one of the best centre-backs in the country.

“He just needs to believe what he is, and he will. He should be thinking ‘I played the champions and I wasn’t too bad’ and the more games he gets under his belt the better he’s going to be.”

It’s another massive game for Rovers this Friday when rivals Bohemians arrive in Tallaght. Being from the local area, Devine knows what the fixture means to the club and he’s relishing the challenge.

“You grow up around here and all you hear about is the Rovers-Bohs derby so to be able to play in one is fantastic and I can’t wait now. I’d say the atmosphere will be electric.”

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Ben Blake

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