Derry boss Mickey Harte lauds coach Gavin Devlin as the best he’s ever seen

Derry and Donegal to ignite the Ulster Championship

Mickey Harte and selector Gavin Devlin
Mickey Harte and assistant Gavin Devlin

DERRY boss Mickey Harte says Gavin Devlin is the best coach he’s ever seen and believes there’s nobody better than the Ardboe clubman than “bringing life” to the tactical theory of Gaelic football.

While much has been made of another tactical genius in Jim McGuinness returning to his sporting roots and renewing his sideline rivalry with Harte at Celtic Park on Saturday evening, Devlin has always been a key element of any of Harte’s managerial teams since the pair hooked up in late 2012.

Affectionately known as ‘Horse’, Devlin has been at Harte’s side with Tyrone, Louth and now Derry.

When Harte was approached about taking on the Derry job, Devlin and the three-times All-Ireland winning manager came as a pair.

“In the early days when I was manager, I felt I was responsible for everything,” said Harte.

“You had to manage the team, you had to coach the team and until we got to senior level when you had to introduce some other people because there was too much to do.

“But I’m very blessed in Gavin Devlin. I keep saying this, but he is the best coach I’ve ever seen and he is far more of a total football coach than people would give him credit for.

“People assume because he played defence for Tyrone that he has a defensive head on him.

“He’s the most creative coach that you could imagine. On every aspect of the game, he’s on top of it. He reminds me of a world class snooker player.

“He’s not thinking of the ball he’s hitting now; he’s thinking of two or three down the line. He sees the big picture and he can translate that onto the field and bring it to life for people and his enthusiasm, his passion for Gaelic football… that’s the thing, I might have to hold him back at times which is my task.”

Devlin, a key player in Tyrone’s maiden All-Ireland win in 2003, quit playing football at just 26.

His club connections in Derry wouldn’t have discouraged the county board in seeing him involved with their senior footballers having spent time with Newbridge, Bellaghy and Slaughtneil.

“Gavin’s analysis of video footage is just in a different stratosphere,” Harte added. “He just sees so much that you would miss if you didn’t have an astute eye.”

As everyone counts down the days to the biggest game of the season so far between Derry and Donegal in the Ulster Championship, many observers feel the newly crowned Division One champions are primed to go a couple of steps further this year and win the All-Ireland title.

While Harte accepts that Derry are one of the top teams in the country, he describes 2024 as one of “opportunity and danger”.

“It’s a difficult one to answer that,” Harte replied to being asked if Derry were ready for another All-Ireland assault, “because what seems very ready at one stage, you suddenly get a bad blow, and it may seem not ready at all.

“You have to be very careful about how you speculate about that, take it a step at a time. Derry have a lot of quality coming through: they won the U17s and there’s the quality in the U20s team as well.

“So there are good enough players there to add value to this team.”

New boys Diarmuid Baker, Cormac Murphy, Declan Cassidy and the continued improvement of Lachlan Murray have all deepened Harte and Devlin’s options heading into their opening Championship match with Donegal.