Devine seeks final inspiration

Having been a late call- up to play in and lose the emotionally charged final of 1997, Declan Devine appreciated all the more his subsequent success in the FAI Cup, albeit in a coaching capacity, when Derry City won the cracking decider with tomorrow’s opponents, St. Patrick’s Athletic, in 2006.

Devine has seen all of Derry’s FAI Cup finals as either a supporter, player, coach and now as manager of his hometown club.

But the one he actually played in 15 years ago was shrouded in tragedy for all at Derry as they lost 2-0 to Shelbourne.

Then 23, Devine was Derry’s injury-plagued reserve keeper and only played as regular Tony O’Dowd’s younger brother, Conor, died suddenly in the build-up to the game.

“I always wanted to win the cup as I’d a horrible experience losing it in 1997,” recalls Devine of the triumph nine years later. “It was very disappointing to lose it as a player so to get a winner’s medal in 2006 was very special.

“My memories of that day are tremendous. It was a strange scenario as Stephen Kenny had already gone to Dunfermline and I had an inkling I would be going myself.

“So I knew it was going to be my last game at Derry at that time. Myself and Paul Hegarty took the team for the weeks coming up to the final and then Stephen came in on the morning of the game. But in terms of the atmosphere on such a horrible day, the manner in which we did win it, it was incredible.”

Memories of 1997 are not so pleasant. “It was a really tough game and I remember it as if it was yesterday,” said Devine.

“The reality was that my career was coming to an end with injuries and physically I wasn’t in the best condition and hadn’t played a lot of football.

“But we had won the league title that year quite comfortably. We were all looking forward to the final only to get the tragic news of Conor O’Dowd’s death just a couple of days beforehand. It was awful as it was very muted in terms of the preparations for the final. But the result was still very disappointing. I was playing and I wanted to win the cup for various reasons, one of which was for Tony. He’d been very good to me all year in terms of helping me cope with all my injuries. It was not the best of days and the two goals we conceded were poor. It was a very strange day and an emotional one. Looking back in hindsight, we weren’t really in the frame of mind for the game.”

This year was always going to be a transitional one for Derry following the departure of manager Kenny and key players James McClean, Eamon Zayed, Gareth McGlynn and Danny Lafferty who contributed 54 goals last season.

“Unfortunately, a lot of players in the spine of the team were injured,” said Devine of a stop-start league campaign which saw key players like Stewart Greacen, Kevin Deery, Barry Molloy, Ruaidhri Higgins, Stephen McLaughlin and Rory Patterson laid up for spells. Devine has endured a trying first season in sole charge of the team. But with his big players back fit, he believes they can show their true colours tomorrow.

“The best way of answering that is by putting in a tremendous shift on Sunday by bringing back the trophy and saying to everybody ‘did we not tell you’.”

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