'You don't get anything handed to you in football' says Kilcoo star Paul Devlin
PAUL Devlin hopes it will be third time lucky for Kilcoo on Sunday but he knows from experience that you often have to make their own luck when it comes to Ulster finals.
The skilful half-forward has played in a couple of deciders – against Crossmaglen in 2012 and Slaughtneil four years' later – and was disappointed in his performance in both. Donegal's Glenties provide the opposition at the Athletic Grounds this weekend and Devlin knows the only their absolute best will get Down's ‘Magpies' over the line for the first time.
“You don't get anything handed to you in football, sometimes it can be cruel,” he said.
“The last two finals, to be honest I still look back and think I could have done a lot more in them. I'm sure other boys on our team feel exactly the same way.
“So it's about learning from it and using the hurt of losing those finals to try and improve your performance and produce the best we can. We just want to control the controllables. There are other aspects of the game that we can't control but if we focus on what we can do then we won't be far away.”
Glenties have been to the Ulster showpiece before too (in 2010) and also came away regretting chances not taken. This year the Donegal men had to dethrone reigning provincial champions Gweedore to get out of their own county and have since taken care of Cavan Gaels and Clontibret with a bit to spare.
“Any team that beats the Ulster champions need to be taken really seriously,” said Devlin.
“They have some quality Donegal names playing for them so I'd say they would have high expectations about what way they'll want to go and we have to match that.”
Devlin and his brothers Martin and Sean will be involved on Sunday in what remains a family affair in Kilcoo's Mourne mountain stronghold. Joining them in the squad are the five Branagan brothers, then there are the Kanes, the Johnsons, the Lavertys, the McAvoys…
“It is a family affair,” Devlin agrees and it was his dad Sean who introduced him to the famous black and white jersey.
Sean soldiered on for years in midfield for Kilcoo, plying his trade in Divisions Two and Three before he signed off with a season in the top flight at the age of 38.
“He's Kilcoo on the brain,” says Paul.
“He was the biggest influence on my career and he was U10 coach for a number of years. The last team he took was probably the Feile team U10s. After that me and my two brothers left that age group and he stepped away.
“He wanted us to have the basics under our belts before we moved up because, at the end of the day, the basics are the most important part of the game.”
That attention to detail at underage level has paid rich dividends. Wave after wave of talented young players have seen the club become the dominant force in Down.
“When I was coming up Kilcoo was more focussed on the youth, getting the youth through,” Devlin explained.
“There was a lot of excitement about the young boys then but the seniors would have been in the semi-finals, quarter-finals in Down and maybe getting to a league final was such a big thing for the club.
“We got the breakthrough in 2009 which was massive for the club and it has pushed on from then. The production line kept coming through and we were blessed to get more quality players each year.
“It has paid dividends over the past 10 years and I just hope it continues until I finish my career and hopefully I've a few years in me yet.”
He tries not to over-think Sunday. Experience has taught him that what really matters is what he does between the first whistle and the last one.
“When you're younger you can get a bit carried away but I personally look no further than the next training session, I take it day by day,” he said.
“You can get carried away thinking: ‘What happens if we win? Am I going to get a goal chance? Or a score?' You have to be thinking about playing the best you can and working the hardest you can.
“With the experience of having been in a couple of finals you have to try and take it in your stride because if you get yourself too worked up about it you get caught up too much in it and you don't think about the performance that's required from you.
“So I try to relax and stay calm.
“I don't really speak too much in huddles or meetings, I try to let the football do the talking. I'm one of the older boys in the panel now but sometimes I think less is more. At the end of the day, it's all about performing on the big days.”