Pat Devlin: 'You never think it goes that quick but I have had fantastic times in the League of Ireland'

Pat Devlin has enjoyed a long and distinguished career managing and playing in the League of Ireland - pictured here managing Cabinteely in the 2021 season

Pat Devlin has enjoyed a long and distinguished career managing and playing in the League of Ireland - pictured here managing Cabinteely in the 2021 season Credit: Gerry Shanahan (ETPhotos)

Synonymous with the League of Ireland, Bray Wanderers and much more, Pat Devlin has been involved as a player, coach and manager on and off for over 50 years.

And the milestone only dawned on the Dun Laoghaire native when he was reminded of the anniversary of Finn Harps’ maiden FAI Cup win in 1974 against St Patrick’s Athletic last month.

At the time, Devlin was a player for the Saints but was ineligible to play in the decider having been cup-tied after playing for TEK United in the earlier rounds of the competition.

But Devlin was involved in League of Ireland football long before that, supporting Shamrock Rovers as a child and joining the Hoops from St Joseph’s Boys in 1971.

While he never got to line out for Rovers’ first-team, he was a regular name in their reserve set-up - and St Joseph’s Boys also received a set of floodlights following his transfer from the Hoops.

“St Joseph’s received a set of floodlights for us…”

“You never think of years,” Devlin reflects when speaking to “You never think it goes that quick and it only feels like yesterday but I have had fantastic times.

“Four of us played for St Joseph's youth team and St Joseph’s received a set of floodlights for us. Eugene Davis, Tony McGuirk, Paul Whelan and myself went up to Rovers and it was fantastic.

“In those days we were training in Belfield with the likes of Frank O’Neill, who I thought was one of the best players to play in the League of Ireland.

“Joe Haverty, Eric Barber, Hughie Brophy, Damien Richardson and Mick Smith were all there too in a great Shamrock Rovers team.

“But unfortunately I never made the first team so I moved back to TEK United.”

At the time, TEK United were one of the top sides in junior football in Dublin and the borough of Dun Laoghaire - which remains a hotbed of football in the capital.

“Football in the Dun Laoghaire area was always very competitive. TEK United and the Workman's Club were the two main teams in those days, and Dalkey were in the League of Ireland B.

“Dun Laoghaire Celtic came onto the scene and won two FAI Junior Cups. They went on to play intermediate football at a later stage.

“St Joseph's Boys also entered the Leinster Senior League, while TEK were one of the best intermediate teams in the country and also went on to win the FAI Intermediate Cup and Leinster Senior League.”

But Devlin had another chance to make his mark at League of Ireland level as a player - and he got it at St Pat’s.

“I started in the first-team and scored on my debut against Shelbourne. Jack Burkett, the former West Ham player, was there at the time and I think he won a European Cup Winners Cup and FA Cup with West Ham.

“He was a real gentleman and was very professional about his business.

“I went down to Athlone with Eugene Davis a little bit after that but it didn’t work out and I went back to TEK United in the Leinster Senior League, Dalkey United in the League of Ireland B and back to the Leinster Senior League with Bray Wanderers.”

“One of my first interviews was with RTE and I said that I'd love to have a proper stadium and compete in Europe..”

And after a spell away from the senior ranks, Devlin returned to take charge of Bray Wanderers ahead of the 1985/86 season as the Seagulls made their mark in the League of Ireland.

Promotions, survivals, winning the FAI Cup (twice) and playing in the UEFA Cup, Devlin oversaw some heady days at the Carlisle Grounds.

“When I first saw the condition of the Carlisle Grounds, it shocked me,” he reflects. “But the club got it right very quickly and I got working on the team for the start of the season.

“We lost our first league game in 1985 to Longford at home 1-0 but after that we never lost another game and won the league.

“A lot of good things happened and we had a lot of great players and really good people around the club. We signed players who were the foundation of the club going forward.

“We got good crowds and the facilities improved every year. We had fantastic times, very committed players and they all did well for themselves. We bonded very well as a team.

“We got into the Premier Division and we stayed for a couple of years and then went back down and we've been up and down ever since."

During Devlin's first stint in charge, he won promotion in his first year in a League of Ireland dugout.

He then kept the Seagulls up in their debut campaign in the top-flight a year later before the Wanderers dropped back to the second-tier at the end of the 1987/88 campaign

They stayed there until the 1990/91 season after narrowly missing out on promotion a few times.

But Bray won the FAI Cup when in the First Division in 1990 and also played in the UEFA Cup against Turkish side Trabzonspor.

 They also became the first second-tier side to win the Cup in doing so.

“It's a great area and I love Bray to bits. But we've never really been able to consistently stay at the level we would have all liked to," Devlin adds.

“One of my first interviews was with RTE and I said that I'd love to have a proper stadium and compete in Europe.

"The stadium has improved but there is so much more to be done. We got into Europe twice so it wasn't too bad.”

“I thought we were destined to win the Cup in 1990…”

Following his first stint at Bray Wanderers as boss, Devlin worked with Noel King at Shamrock Rovers as Technical Director in the 1990s - before taking charge of Drogheda United and Athlone Town.

But he subsequently returned to take charge of the Seagulls in 1995 - where he remained until 2006 - with another FAI Cup being won in his second spell.

He claimed the famous trophy initially in 1990 against St Francis.

“I thought we were destined to win the Cup in 1990,” Devlin adds. “We had a pretty good squad and they were very together. We played Derry City in the semi-final and no one rated us.

“We were one down at half time and we had a little pop at them and they responded brilliantly. We won the game 2-1 and we couldn't believe it.

“We then heard on the radio that Bohs were beaten by St Francis. From us being underdogs, we became the favourites. It was quite incredible for us because it was a bit of a burden to carry.

“I remember someone said to us at one time that ‘we had to win because you're representing the League of Ireland and you can’t lose to a junior club’. That was easier said than done.

“Pete Mahon did a great job with them so it was not an easy task. But we went down and we won it 3-0. It was one of my fondest memories for lots of different reasons.”

And then 1999 came around against Finn Harps, where it took three goes for the Seagulls to defeat the Co Donegal side.

“When people ask me how many FAI Cup finals have I been in, I say four!,” Devlin adds.

“We had the 1990 final and then we played three games against Finn Harps. But I would treat them both equally.

"The first one was played in front of 35,000 fans at Lansdowne Road and the second had a totally different atmosphere. But the satisfaction was the same.”

“I loved the international scene, so in many ways, I was very fortunate that I got that opportunity…”

Devlin also worked as a representative for Liverpool, managed the League of Ireland Premier and Under-21 set-ups and led the Ireland B international side.

He subsequently worked on Steve Staunton’s coaching staff with the senior international team.

“Steve was about six months into his job and he asked me if I would help him out. I was delighted and that led from one thing to another.

“I enjoyed working with Steve, Kevin McDonald, Alan Kelly and all the staff

“It was a different experience. I loved the international scene, so in many ways, I was very fortunate that I got that opportunity.

“I thought we did very well but it was not an easy job. Steve had a lot of different obstacles put in his way. I don’t think he ever got the credit he deserved for the job he did.

“But personally it was great to work with a management team like that.”

Devlin got to know Staunton through his work with Liverpool - plus a certain Kenny Daglish and many others at the Anfield club.

“It all happened back in 1985,” he began. “I was asked to meet Ron Yeats at the time he asked me to do some work for them.

“I took it and I have to say, it was one of the best decisions I ever made. I made a great friend in Kenny Dalglish and I had a fantastic run with him.

“I made great friends, not only with Kenny but lots of other great people involved with Liverpool at the time.

“I had a similar experience with him at Blackburn and Newcastle. Kenny was an absolute gentleman to me and is the same to this day.”

“The Great Escape…”

Following his stints working with a host of Ireland international sides, Devlin returned to take charge of Bray in 2010 and 2013 on separate occasions - helping them to top-flight survival both times.

He kept them up in 2010 following a thrilling play-off against Monaghan United in a game that will go down in the annals of history at the Carlisle Grounds.

“I'll never forget that,” Devlin said. “Mick Cooke was managing Monaghan and I came back to try and keep Bray up.

“We got to the last game and Chris Shields scored an own-goal with only one minute left. The Monaghan fans jumped on the pitch and knocked the wall down.

“I didn't wave any magic wand. No one did except the players. The ball was tipped off, knocked back and it was hoofed up into the left corner.

“It was knocked across the box and Chris Shields got on the end of the ball and headed it down. The keeper dropped it and Jake Kelly scored.

“It then went to penalties and we won.. They made a little thing about it and called it ‘The Great Escape’ and it certainly was.”

He then repeated the trick in 2013 against Longford Town in a thrilling play-off that Bray Wanderers won 5-4 on aggregate, with Kevin O’Connor scoring a last-gasp winner when penalties looked to be a certainty.

“It looked like it was definitely heading to penalties,” Devlin admitted.

“Kevin produced this unbelievable goal. It was worthy of winning any league or play-off. It was just fantastic.

“Throughout my career, I’ve been very fortunate throughout my career to work with tremendous people like Michael ‘Locker’ Davis, Eddie Wallace, Bobby Smyth and Nicky Kavanagh.

“Without them, we would have never enjoyed the success we had.”

The UCD and Cabinteely days

He departed the club after helping them to survival in 2013 before taking over as Director of Football at UCD - and then taking charge at Cabinteely as first-team boss.

“I had a fantastic time at UCD and I loved every bit of it,” he said. “I met some great people and the club was run in a very professional way.

“We were in Europe and we got into the second round and played against Slovan Bratislava after we beat Dudelange.

“Collie O’Neill did a great job as manager and we were unlucky to be beaten. We had some great players like Gary O'Neill, Robbie Benson and Liam Scales at the club.

“It was great being Director of Football at UCD and they were great to work with. I didn’t want to leave but being a manager again was something I could not refuse.

“I was contacted by Cabinteely and my very good friend Eddie Gormley asked me to go there. It was a great adventure. We always had to dig deep as they were a new club in the league.

“But we had great freedom to get on with our jobs and everyone was so supportive, in particular Blackrock Rugby Club for the use of Stradbrook.”

“It hasn't been all plain sailing but I think we are moving in the right direction…”

Devlin then returned to the Carlisle Grounds at the end of the 2021 season following Cabinteely’s merger with Bray Wanderers - initially juggling the role of first-team manager and Director of Football.

“We didn't have much time to prepare,” Devlin explains. “It just wasn’t the right time to get promoted to the Premier Division. We weren’t ready.

“But I think we've moved on from that. It hasn't been all plain sailing but I think we are moving in the right direction. 

“I’d love to have Bray back in the Premier Division and there’s a lot of good stuff going on at the moment with Ian Ryan and the first-team.

“They are doing a good job and we are hopeful of success this season.  

“We've got tremendous links in the Bray academy with Cabinteely, Greystones United, Ardmore Rovers, Enniskerry and St Joseph’s. There's a lot of goodwill out there.”

“The league is making progress but we need more investment to get better facilities…”

But after 50 years in the League of Ireland, what does Devlin think of the recent strides made by the league?

“The league is making progress but we need more investment to get better facilities,” he insists.

“You'll attract new sponsors, investment and everyone will benefit from it.

“We don’t have the best facilities but if we can improve them, can you just imagine what we can produce? It would be fantastic.

“I am very fortunate to have been involved in the league for 50 years and I have met so many great people along the way… Des Roche, Joe Fitzgerald, the three Joe’s, Maccer O’Connor  and the many others who have been with me all the way.

“There are too many to mention but I hope they enjoyed the journey as much as I did.”