Brother’s tragic death makes Tyrone star Niall Devlin appreciate every moment on the pitch

Gaelic Football a refuge as Red Hand star reflects on loss of his elder brother Caolan

Niall Devlin celebrates.jpg
Niall Devlin celebrates a goal against Clare on Sunday. The Coalisland clubman scored 2-2 in the first half (seamus loughran)

THE tragic death of his brother Caolan has inspired Niall Devlin to appreciate every moment on the pitch whether it’s for Tyrone or his club Coalisland Na Fianna.

Devlin produced a man of the match performance for the Red Hands against Clare on Sunday with two goals and two points from corner-back in the first half.

Alongside his scores, the super-fit corner-back was also involved in several other points and helped restrict the Banner forwards to just three points from play.

Niall’s older brother Caolan (30) died when his car collided with a lorry on a stretch of the notorious A5 between Ballygawley and Omagh on March 5. Since then football has been a refuge for Tyrone’s All-Ireland U20-winning skipper.

“It has been a difficult couple of months,” he said.

“I have a really good family and we support each other and then the Tyrone boys… I owe everything to them, they’ve been brilliant to me and I have a great friend group as well.

“Everything helps and the football is a great outlet, it takes your mind off things for that hour or two.”

Caolan Devlin was an All-Ireland winner himself. A talented hurler with the Naomh Colum Cille club, he lined out for Tyrone at minor level and won an All-Ireland ‘C’ Championship in 2010.

Niall says the loss of his brother has given him a new sense of appreciation at being able to enjoy playing the sport he loves.

“There’s nothing like getting out and playing football,” he said.

“Maybe I took it for granted a bit until Caolan passed away but when something like that happens you really appreciate it all and it’s really enjoyable at the minute.

“Any time you get to pull on the Tyrone jersey and represent the county at any level it’s a special day and I really appreciate it a lot more now.”

Tyrone struggled to find fluency in the first half against Clare in Sunday’s Group Three, round two fixture. Having lost to Donegal in round one, another defeat could have meant the end of the road for the Red Hands.

They were behind when Devlin got forward to drill home his first goal and the Bannermen had battled back to level it when he took Niall Morgan’s pass, dummied a defender and stroked the ball into the net for his second. Tyrone never lost that lead.

“They were my first Championship goals so I’m happy with that,” he said.

“Ah look, they were put on a plate for me, them two goals, and I was happy to get on the end of them and the lads came on in the second half and we pushed on well.

“Nowadays everybody has the opportunity to get forward – corner-backs included – and this is a new role for me and I’m enjoying playing it beside my two clubmen Michael (McKernan) and Paudie (Hampsey) – it’s really enjoyable.”

Devlin feels he struggled with the pace and physicality of inter-county senior football last year and worked tirelessly on his fitness and strength during the closed season. He says that industry is paying off for him now.

“Last year even when I went back to the club I had a ropey-enough season,” he said.

“I put in a big winter – I did a lot of training, I love training and I put in a lot of hard yards so that when it comes to the thick of it I’m ready.

“Running, weights, whatever… I needed to build myself up a wee bit – I’m not near the finished article yet, but I think my fitness is better and it was good to get that block of work done and it’s a joy to play with these boys, it’s unreal.”

Next up for Tyrone is a Cork side that produced an unexpected two-point win over Donegal on Saturday. The Red Hands haven’t posted back-to-back wins since March last year when they won three in-a-row in Division One.

This year every win has been followed by a defeat and that sequence will need to change if the 2022 All-Ireland champions are to top a competitive group and progress to the quarter-finals.

“Cork put in a big performance against Donegal so we need to get ourselves reset this week and look forward to playing them,” said Devlin.

“Topping the group is what we want but we’ll just be targeting a performance against Cork more than anything else.”