Declan Devine is a man who knows where he has come from. He attributes all of his good fortune and success to his strong family upbringing and the sacrifices his mother, Eileen, made when he was younger.
Declan, 38, was an extremely talented goalkeeper when he was younger. Before realising the dream of managing his hometown club, Derry City F.C., he had the opportunity to join Manchester United when he was 15 years-old but opted for Ipswich Town instead. However, a serious injury put a stop to his professional career but Declan always had one eye on becoming a coach and eventually a manager.
Declan is an extremely grounded man and if the passion with which he speaks about the Candy Stripes is anything to go by then Derry City look set to realise success under his tenure.
“I was born on September 15th 1973 and I was reared by Eileen, my mother, and Rosie, my grandmother, in 24 Fanad Drive - it’s still the family home to this day.
“When I was younger I had a close knit family of 12 - made up of aunties, uncles and my younger sister Roslyn.
“Because I come from such a close family I would see my aunties and uncles as sisters and brothers - I’d have been lost without them all.
“My mother worked in a few shops in Creggan and she worked in Essex for a while. She was a hard grafter and made a lot of sacrifices for me when I was younger. When I was getting trials with a few clubs around England she helped to pay for everything. Money was tight but she always found a way. I wouldn’t have got the chances I got if it hadn’t have been for her.”
Declan attended both Holy Child Primary School before moving on to St. Joseph’s Boys’ School. It was at Holy Child P.S. that he developed what would eventually become a lifelong obsession with all things football.
“I first started playing football for my school team when I was in Primary six.
“Paddy Heraty was in charge of football at the school and he gave me my first chance.
“I started out as a goalkeeper and that’s where I remained until I decided to hang up my boots many years later.
“I also played for Ashfield F.C. under ‘Nucker’ Tierney until I was about 11 years-old.
“I spent a bit of time at Oxford United where I played for Marty Gormley and Noel Crampsey but after that I decided to put football on the back burner and it wasn’t until I was at St. Joseph’s that I decided to give it another go again.”
St. Joseph’s Boys’ School teacher, Frankie McGuigan convinced Declan to pull on his goalkeeping gloves again when he was 13.
It wasn’t long before Declan started to show his potential.
Within two years of heeding Frankie McGuigan’s advice, Declan was a fully fledged schoolboy international for Northern Ireland and was playing for Institute F.C. in the Intermediate Division of the Irish League.
When Declan was 15 he started to attract attention from some of the big clubs in England.
Declan had the opportunity to sign for Manchester United, Leeds United and Aston Villa but in the end he opted for Ipswich Town.
“I could have signed for Manchester United had I wanted to but if I am honest the reason why I decided to join Ipswich was because I reckoned I had a better chance of progressing faster and making it into the first team.
“Ipswich also had a great youth development strategy in place so that was why I decided to turn down three of the top clubs in England,” he smiles.
Signing for an English football team is something that boys from all over Derry dream of and it was certainly a dream come true for Declan.
Playing football was all that interested Declan but disaster struck shortly before his 16th birthday.
It happened on a Saturday afternoon. Declan had lined out for Ipswich in a F.A. Cup youth match on the Friday night and was due to meet up with the Northern Ireland youth team the following day at a training camp in Bisham Abbey near London.
As part of the training exercises a game was arranged between Northern Ireland and Tottenham Hotspur’s reserve squad.
The game started. The ball went out of play for a throw in to Northern Ireland. It was before the new back-pass rule was in place and Declan’s team mate threw the ball back to him for him to gather.
Then Spurs player Nick Barmby raced back to try and score and but he clashed with Devine and the Derry man’s left knee was left in bad shape.
Barmby went on to play for Everton, Liverpool and Leeds United and was capped 23 times for England. He’s the current manager of Hull City.
“I’d only been with Ipswich for about six weeks when I sustained serious cruciate ligament damage to my left knee.
“At the time, it was difficult to deal with because all of my dreams and ambitions had been wiped out inside 90 minutes - I was gutted.”
Declan returned to action eight months later but disaster struck again when he endured the same injury; he was out of action for another eight months.
At the age of 18 Declan signed a professional contract with Ipswich Town and played quite a few games for the senior squad but it was the post-match condition of his knee that convinced him to walk away from the top level of professional football.
“On medical advice I knew that I wasn’t cut out to make it at that level so I came back and signed for Omagh Town for year where I played under Paul Kee.”
Former Northern Ireland boss Billy Bingham was a director at Blackpool F.C. at the time Declan returned home and offered him a two year deal to play for the Seasiders.
“I was tempted but again, on the back of the medical advice, I decided that coming home was the better option.”
As a result for his exploits with Omagh Town, Declan was capped at Northern Ireland Under-23 level and won the Irish League’s young player of the year award.
Declan moved to Glentoran the following season and remained at the Oval for three years.
“I enjoyed playing for Glentoran but again my knee was sore after games but it was amazing playing alongside players like Glen Little and Liam Coyle.
“One of my fondest memories of my time with the Glens was winning the Irish Cup against Glenavon in 1996 - that was a great day.”
Shortly after lifting the cup with Glentoran then Derry City boss Felix Healy signed both Declan and Liam Coyle.
“When I signed for Derry my motivation for playing wasn’t at the level it should have been - I think it was because of all my injury setbacks. I didn’t do myself justice but all the same it was a great experience being part of a Derry City team that won the league.
“The most disappointing time for me when playing for Derry was losing the F.A.I. Cup final to Shelbourne in 1997. Tony O’Dowd’s brother died so I got the call up at the last minute.
“We lost the game 2-0 in Dalymount - I was devastated.”
Declan left Derry City for Institute F.C. where he remained for a while but due to his knee injury he decided to hang up his gloves and boots when he was 27.
Despite the fact that he left Ipswich and continued to play football Declan said that he always knew that if was to have a long lasting career in the game it was going to be as a coach or a manager.
At the age of 19, whilst still at Ipswich, Declan, along with seven senior professionals, studied for his English Preliminary coaching badge - he was the only one of the eight to get the qualification.
“There’s no substitute for playing football. The feeling of a good win is one of the best ever but because of the injury I always knew that my career in football was going to be as a coach.”
After calling time on his goalkeeping career, Declan worked hard with Maiden City Soccer Academy and helped to develop the youth at the club by linking up with academies at Leeds United and Sheffield Wednesday.
In 2002, Derry City approached Declan and asked him if he would be interested in taking up the position of youth development officer at the club. Declan impressed in his job. So much so, then Derry City manager, Kevin Mahon, asked him to take a few training sessions with the first team.
After Mahon left Derry, Dermot Kealy was installed as manager, Declan remained involved in first team affairs but his first proper coaching opportunity came when Kealy’s successor, Gavin Dykes, asked him to be his assistant manager.
“‘Dykesy’ gave me my first chance but then Stephen [Kenny] took over. I’d never met Stephen before but after asking me to take a few training sessions he said that he liked what I was doing.
“Myself and Stephen bonded well and developed a good working relationship and a good friendship away from the club.”
Declan has been involved in many of Derry City’s high and low points.
The club’s exploits in Europe in 2006 is but one of the fond memories Declan revisits but his most treasured experience as assistant manager to Stephen Kenny was when the Candy Stripes won the League Cup in 2006.
“We were down to nine men and we still won the league cup. It was hard to separate that I was a fan that night. Beating Shels is always great but to beat them on penalties with nine men in front of a packed Brandywell is hard to beat. I’d love to have another few of those nights in the future.
After his successful 2006 season with Derry City, Declan agreed to join Stephen Kenny as his assistant coach at Dunfermline Athletic.
“I feel that we didn’t get the chance we deserved there and it taught me a lot about the influence senior players at a club can have.”
A year later, Declan accompanied Kenny back to Brandywell where they were unveiled to the fans inside the Delacroix bar and restaurant at Christmas time in 2007.
Declan said that he enjoyed his time working under Stephen Kenny and describes him as a person who has had a significant impact on his career.
Be that as it may, when Stephen Kenny left Derry for Shamrock Rovers in 2011, Declan decided that he wanted to carve out a career in football management and was unveiled as Kenny’s successor at the beginning of January this year.
“When Stephen said that he was leaving Derry for Shamrock Rovers I was a bit surprised because I thought there was unfinished business here in terms of winning a league. But Stephen is Tallaght born and bred and the opportunity to manage your hometown club don’t come along too often.
“Stephen spoke to me about joining him at Rovers but there was never any contract offers or anything like that - it was just talk. But as I said the opportunity to manage your hometown club doesn’t come along too often and that applies to me too.
“I am a Derry City supporter - I always have been and always will be.
“In fact one of my earliest memories is being at Mass and the priest announced at the end that the Derry City game that afternoon was going to be called off because of snow. They asked for volunteers to go to the Brandywell to help remove the snow - I volunteered. I regret it now because we lost the game 1-0 - I have very strong memories of being a young Derry City supporter.
“I am delighted to be managing my hometown club and I am confident that we can be successful here.”
When he’s not preparing for Derry City’s next match or shouting instructions from the sidelines Declan likes nothing more than to spend time with his partner Michelle and his nine year old son Rossa and seven year-old daughter Ciana.”
He added: “My mother doesn’t come to any of the games but she’s the first person to tune the radio into whatever station is broadcasting from the Brandywell. I also think she’s out a fortune from buying all the newspapers to see how I am getting on,” he laughed.
“One of the things that convinced me to take the job was the backing I got from my family. My partner Michelle has been so supportive and understanding. My children, Rossa and Ciana come to the games and I try to spend as much time with them as possible - they’re two great children. This job would be impossible to do if I didn’t have the support of my family.
“The one thing I can guarantee people is that I will give this 100 per cent and just because I am sitting here as manager doesn’t mean that I will be resting on my laurels. And having Paul Hegarty alongside me too is great - he has an amazing work ethic.
“I’m really enjoying being Derry City manager. It’s a lot of hard work to be honest but I’d regard myself as a hard-working person.”