Have you heard the story about the Dunamanagh native who played alongside Norman Whiteside at schoolboy level for Northern Ireland, was named Derby County’s young player of the year, scored a winning goal at Old Trafford and played against Sir Alex Ferguson’s side during Manchester United’s run to winning the 1990 FA Cup?
If your answer, like mine, was no, then that’s perhaps not surprising because Stevie Devine isn’t one to shout about his career and achievements from the rooftops.
He’s modest, perhaps too much so, but very engaging and I was transfixed as he looked back on a career that also saw him playing against Kevin Keegan, Peter Beardsley and Chris Waddle before he eventually hung up his boots to become Nottingham Forest’s first team physiotherapist for 15 years, sandwiched between stints in the same role within Derby County’s Academy where he still works.
Having first joined Wolves, who beat off competition from Arsenal for the hard working then midfielder, before stints at Derby and Stockport County, Devine ended up at Hereford United in the old fourth division where he would go on to win the Welsh Cup, captain the club and make almost 300 appearances before a spell at various non-league outfits including Hedensford Town, with whom he came close to earning promotion to the football league.
None of that might have happened, however, as his first love was and remains Gaelic Football. According to his cousin, Niall Conway, Devine, who retains close ties with Clann na nGael, having played for Owen Roes back in the days when that club included Dunamanagh and Aughabrack, would most certainly have gone on to represent Tyrone at underage and probably senior level too.
But after moving from St Columb’s College, Derry, to St Joseph’s High School in Plumbridge, he was introduced to soccer by Liam Kennedy and Ronnie Russell and with it opportunities came quickly, chances he just couldn’t turn down.
Stevie earned a call-up to the Northern Ireland Schoolboys team during the 1979/80 season alongside Whiteside, who would go on to play for Manchester United and Everton, and Omagh’s John McDaid, but like most of his soccer career, that wasn’t in his plans, because he didn’t have any.
“There was no plan, but my first and still I love Gaelic football. It’s what I grew up with and I would love to have continued that but you follow other paths and opportunities arise in different places,” he observed.
“I could get around the pitch, but Norman Whiteside and boys like that were another level, he was a man among boys, a wonderful player.”
Outside of school, he played for Melvin Park in the Derry and District League alongside the likes of Kieran Tourish, who went on to play for Omagh Town and is now a reporter for BBC Northern Ireland, but Devine wasn’t set for a glorious local career.
Soon cross-channel clubs came calling with trials at Wolves, Arsenal and Bolton Wanderers giving him the opportunity to shine on a bigger scale.
“I didn’t know what they saw in me!,” Stevie exclaimed. “When I look back now, I could run, I was a strong runner, so that was part of what they saw, but it was dream world. I didn’t expect to be seen by these clubs.
“I was always reasonably fit and I was blessed with, I suppose, a natural fitness and I had a love of the ball and I just ran with it to see where it got me. I don’t think, if I look back, that I was particularly gifted in terms of talent, but I think my strength was that I was very competitive and I was a strong runner.”
FULL STORY IN THURSDAY’S STRABANE CHRONICLE