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Laszlo Geczo/INPHO Ireland U20s scrum-half Matthew Devine.
# like father like son
Scrum-half Matthew Devine flying the flag for Connacht in Ireland U20s squad
The 19-year-old is the son of former Connacht wing Mike, who also won an All-Ireland U21 football title with Offaly in 1988.

WHEN RICHIE MURPHY named his Ireland squad for this year’s U20s Six Nations, one name stood out on the list. Or, to be precise, the information in the brackets which followed the name did – Matthew Devine (Corinthians RFC/Connacht).

In a 31-man Ireland squad, the scrum-half is the sole Connacht man to make the cut. The early signs suggest it hasn’t prevented the 19-year-old from making his presence felt around the group.

Devine was Ireland’s starting scrum-half in last Friday’s comprehensive defeat of Wales and delivered an assured display, his opportunist try – sniping through a small gap off the back of a lineout to score Ireland’s second try – the sign of a confident player willing to back himself on the pitch.

“It was a little bit loose and it was just instinct really,” Devine explains.

“I just got my head up and saw that gap between the maul that was supposed to be set and the prop, so delighted.”

Like Andy Farrell’s senior side, Murphy’s U20s are being encouraged to play a heads-up, open style of rugby. 

Obviously you’ve got your setpieces and plays you go to but you’re still going to be running plays at the same time, so there is a big emphasis from the coaches on just getting your head up and being alive to what the defence shows you, and to what’s on.”

Like many of his Ireland teammates, the Ballinasloe man comes from a multi-sport background having played Gaelic football through to his late teens.

“I would have played until I was about 16 in Ballinasloe GAA and a little bit in Garbally as well. Probably played football from when I was U6 all the way up to about 16, and when you get to that age you have to make a decision on what sport you want to prioritise.”

GAA ran in the family, with Devine’s father, Mike, a Shannonbridge clubman and a member of the Offaly team which won an All-Ireland U21 football title in 1988.

He says he was born going over the border on the Offaly side. He always likes to stress his Offaly heritage. He played for Buccaneers in AIL. They were fairly good back in the ’90s, (Division) 1A and 1B. It was Shannonside, so between Ballinasloe and Athlone.”

Mike Devine played a major role in Matthew’s development as a young rugby player, and also enjoyed a good career himself with Buccaneers and Connacht. After his GAA exploits with the Faithful, Devine became the first man to captain the midlands club under the Buccaneers moniker in 1994/95, and also has a hat-trick against Munster to his name from his Connacht days.

“An all-rounder as he likes to tell me,” Devine continues.

“My dad would have brought me up and coached me from a very young age. I would say I was seven or eight. Up until U18s. He was one of my coaches in Garbally College as well, from 13 onwards to my Leaving Cert. 

matthew-devine-celebrates-scoring-a-try Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Devine celebrates his try against Wales last Friday. Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

“We’ve seen a lot of players in recent years come from Garbally and Ballinasloe and it’s such a small town. So that’s pretty impressive but it’s because of the underage structures that we had and all the good coaches we had all the way up.”

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This week the Ireland U20s head to the south of France for a Friday night fixture in Aix-en-Provence, with Devine dropping to the bench as Munster’s Ethan Coughlan swaps into the starting XV.

“It’s obviously going to be challenging for any team going into France,” Devine says.

“They are going to be a good team every year but as a group we are all very excited about the opportunity before us, you know? Playing in front of that loud crowd in Musgrave Park will have helped prepare us for that as well.

“The atmosphere off the pitch… There’s lads from the four provinces and the IQ lads so there’s no real boundaries, everyone is just one group. Having things like a pool table and the table tennis really helps. There’s lots of competitive lads in here and it’s good craic.” 

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