Monday 26 June 2017

'Sometimes you'd get paranoid about it'

Daniel Devine is hoping to resurrect his football career at Shamrock Rovers after a series of injury setbacks Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Daniel Devine is hoping to resurrect his football career at Shamrock Rovers after a series of injury setbacks Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

Daniel Devine's life story means he can be forgiven for uttering the cliche that he takes one game at a time.

Every match matters to the Shamrock Rovers new boy. That's because the 23-year-old has suffered setbacks that placed his football future in serious doubt.

It's understandable that he wants to look forward rather than back. There's only so many times he can explain to people why he dropped off the map. But the defender has not spoken to the media before about the reasons that he disappeared from the scene after his release from Aston Villa.

This goes beyond the normal tale of injury woe, although there's a bit of that.

Devine was a promising defender at Villa, a part of the team that lost an FA Youth Cup final to a Chelsea side inspired by Dundalk's recent recruit Conor Clifford, when a routine training exercise struck him down.

"The first time I dislocated my knee at Villa, I was doing shuttle runs, I turned and it popped. Everyone stopped and my kneecap was sticking out," he recalls, with a wry smile.

However, the frustration caused by that setback was nothing compared to what came next. Devine was on a trip home to Dublin when he was assaulted outside Parnell St cinema and his knee buckled from under him. That's when his dream really turned sour.

"I was back here for a six-week break in the summer," he sighs. "I was looking forward to my first week back and then I got jumped on - a random attack. One of them knew how to take down a big fella. I just knew straight away it was dislocated so I just had to get an operation when I went back over."

But that's where things got complicated. Devine's insurance policy didn't cover incidents that occurred off the park and his knee had already been flagged as a concern because of his original injury.

Another operation and a year of recuperation followed and his time at Villa was basically up. Nobody was ever convicted due to the lack of CCTV coverage in the area where he was struck down.

"These things happen," he shrugs. "You just try and move on and don't dwell on it."

The fall-out meant that he didn't play any football between the age of 20-22. Proposed moves to Stoke and Swindon collapsed when the respective managers - Tony Pulis and Kevin MacDonald - were shown the door. Devine was immersed in a court case arising from his injury strife and took a break from the game while honouring a promise to his parents.

"I only had my Junior Cert," explains the Tallaght native, "I told my ma and da before I went over that if I didn't make it I would come back and get my education sorted. I did a FETAC course to get my Leaving and I'm now in my third year at IT Tallaght doing Business Management."

He took tentative steps back into the game at Leinster Senior League level with Cherry Orchard, combining that and his college work with repping for an events company, earning €10 an hour from "back-breaking work" at festivals and corporate events.

After a brief spell at Firhouse Clover, he was invited to train with Rovers towards the end of last year and showed enough to be offered a contract by Stephen Bradley.

That's why he took a lot of satisfaction from last Friday's opener in Dundalk, even if it ended in defeat.

"It was my first professional game in three years so I'm just taking it step by step," he says. "I know I can perform better than I did in that game."

Rovers were only just in the process of moving into Tallaght when he left the country. One of the major highlight of his time in Birmingham was joining in first-team training with Richard Dunne and Robbie Keane, two childhood heroes from his area.

His biggest regret was not going out on loan when his stock was quite high and missing the opportunity to get some games on his CV.

Grateful

Still, he's grateful for his second chance and the opportunity to play full-time in his locality and is energised by the prospect of a first derby meeting with Bohemians tonight.

"I only started going to games when I started training with Rovers," he says. "So I can't wait for this because all you hear about is the Dublin derby between Rovers and Bohs. It will be tenacious. It will be 100 miles an hour. I've never seen a Rovers-Bohs game, so I'm just looking forward to playing in it."

There is an acceptance that he must cherish every moment.

"At least I have my degree to fall back on because I don't know for how many years I will be able to play at this level with my knee," he says.

"The gaffer is managing it well. I step out of training once a week, which is what I used to do at Villa anyway.

"Sometimes in training you'd be a bit paranoid. On the pitch you don't think about it, but when you are just doing runs you'd get paranoid about it. But it is stabilised now."

Bradley has belief in his acquisition, yet hints that his confidence might still need some repairing.

"For me, he's a proper defender," he asserts. "He had a lot of stuff going on but it's finished now and I don't think you will see the best of him for another seven or eight weeks.

"Now that he's back at this level, he needs to realise that he's good enough."

Derby night would be the perfect time to show it.

Shamrock Rovers v Bohemians, Live, RTE2, 7.30

Irish Independent

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