September 15, 1995
Fay "The Ogg" Devlin
A Corner Back By Nature
For a lad of 24, Fay Devlin has a lot of mileage up on the clock. He's one of those Tyrone players that seems to have been around for ever but in fact began his Senior career in the 1990/91 League. His progress through the ranks was classical: Minor, followed by Under 21 and then Senior all in one smooth transition. His time at Under 21 level was in three All-Ireland finals on the trot and winning the latter two in '91 and '92.
One of nature's corner backs, he played in that difficult defensive position in all three finals and has been an automatic in either corner for Tyrone Seniors since breaking through. Standing five feet eight inches and weighing almost 13 stone he is, as they say, "all there" - a chunky, pacy, tough bit of stuff that has come through many's a torrid 70 minutes in Ulster, and lived to tell the tale.
Discussing the finer points of his trade, Fay says he'd prefer the freedom of the wing but he doesn't mind the corner, he's used to it by now. But what type of corner forward would he prefer to mark, the big Mattie McGleenan type or the ninety speed merchants? "The speed merchants would give you a bit of trouble bit then you'd get the big ones too who'd give you bother. It's hard to say, depends what way they play."
A lot also depends, he explains, on the quality of ball coming in. It doesn't matter if you're on a big man, he still has the advantage because the forward is always first to move, and there's nothing you can do if they're getting good ball bouncing chest-high straight into them.
"He's going to have that yard, that split second in front of you and then you can't go in and commit yourself and foul him. Especially against Dublin, you can't do that, if you give a free it's sure to be a point - anywhere inside the 45 and you're finished."
The trick therefore is to tackle without fouling. It's an extremely difficult tightrope to walk, especially in the pressure cooker cauldron that is Croke Park, with dangerous forwards bearing down on goal at alarming levels of speed and aggression. The temptation to make the big tackle must be overwhelming - but the need to avoid is even greater. "That's right. You need to avoid the foul and yet you have to put in the tackles, clean tackles, shoulder-to-shoulder stuff. Blocking would be the main part of it." Fay is well aware of the help players further outfield can be when it comes to defending - if half forwards and midfields can put pressure on opposing players, prevent them from delivering good ball to the men inside, then it makes the job a hell of a lot easier for him and his colleagues in the last line.
And the job can hardly come any harder against a full forward line that will read Redmont, Sherlock and Galvin. All the talk has centred around Jason, of course, so how does Fay feel about the young type? They will, after all, be in the same vicinity. "He'll be in or around here alright bit I don't know who'll be on him yet bit .(laughs) he'll be hard to catch, he's slippery! You need to watch him in case he gets behind you and gets a slippy goal. If he slips away from you, that's it, he has it in the back of the net, he's fairly accurate that road. But I'd say Charlie Redmond's frees are going to be our main problem. IF we give frees away, Charlie's going to put them over."
All the Tyrone players agree that it was against Derry they came of age this season. And it was the same day that Fay produced one of his biggest games over in the red and white. After the game, wrote Tom Humphries in The Irish Times, "Fay Devlin was concerned by well wishers. The Ardboe man has enjoyed one of those afternoons which are the foundation of legend. He seemed quietly pleased."
"Yeah, we were pleased alright. When we came into the changing rooms we were just buzzing. We came in after Cavan in the Ulster final and it wasn't the same atmosphere at all. It was just the fact of beating Derry. That was the big one. When we won Ulster it didn't seem to mean anything to us winning it, it was beating Derry plus now going on to the All-Ireland final."
Tyrone showed admirable flexibility in their tactics on the day against Derry, consciously adapting the possession game, running with the ball, carrying it forward but rarely kicking wildly. "We didn't give it away, that's what won it for us. There was nothing else we could do 'cos we were kicking it into Tony Scullion and he's a great man to read a game so when we kicked it in he was coming out with it. They played their two spare men at the back and that's where they made their mistake."
Galway caught them on the hop a bit in the semi-final and Fay confesses to being surprised by their fitness. Tyrone went in as hot favourites, which didn't help them either but they got over the Connacht challenge, if a little uncomfortably, in the end. Asked if Tyrone are a better team this year, Fay replies that they're fitter. Last year they were fit, but not fit enough to win an Ulster Championship. This year they're twice as fit. They did a lot of track work early in the year along with a lot of circuit training and gym work. Fay also flirted with amateur boxing in his teens and this helped him build up power and stamina.
The stamina work was particularly arduous this summer. "Up to last week we were doing something like a ten mile run through the Manor Forest so that kept us in fairly good shape. We started doing them after the Derry game, eight to ten miles on average. It was steady running but you were sprinted as well. We had a man with us, Donal Gallagher, and we had to follow him so you can guess what it was like."
They've done well over a hundred training sessions since last October and, for amateur sportsmen, the difficulty is in accommodating the demands of work with these gruelling schedule. Fay is somewhat fortunate in that he works for his uncle Mick in the glazing, pvc windows business and gets the time off whenever he needs it.
Most of the Tyrone players watched the All-Ireland hurling final on tv and Fay says the performance of Clare was an inspiration to them. "I was sitting watching it on tv and it sent the shivers up my back. It was a great occasion, the fight they put in was unbelievable, they did very well". In fact, the whole occasion left him more than a little agitated. "I was thinking about the final after the Clare game the other night. I didn't sleep much after watching it, kept thinking about it".
And if that sounds slightly like pre-match nerves, don't be surprised. Players won't confess to it easily but they don't just worry about a game the night before, or a few days before - they worry about it weeks before. The waiting can play havoc on nerves that are already dancing with tension. Fay admits to feeling nervous, basically before all games, even club Championship games. And the nerves, very often, work their way down and make heavy legs on athelets who are in superb shape. "Yah, they were heavy against Galway, defiantly. I went out at the start and they were heavy. I don't know what way to get round it but I suppose a good warm-up will help. We'll be out on the field longer for the final and it'll give us more time to run out and get used to the crowd, which should help a bit."
The dressing room will be a bit of a hothouse too, he agrees, but it's all part if the occasion and all part of the ordeal for each individual player on the day. Goalkeeper Finbarr McConnell will be keeping him on his toes in any event. He is a good communicator, with a big set of lungs, laughs Fay - and he's not afraid to use them either. "He does a lot of shouting, which you need, espically when you're out in Croke Park. His voice will only carry to the full back line so we'll have to shout from there on out".
Down the field, the noise and caios is such that communication is almost impossible. But even though it's home to Dublin, it dosen't have to confer an unnecessary advantage on them- Donegal, Derry and Down proved that in other years. Fay saw the Dubs play against Meath in the Leinster final and was impressed, more than anything, with their fitness. Tyrone also seem to be scoring better this year, he says. Tyrone will be conceding height and weight to them bit they've coped with that problem all season by playing their own brand of possession football, explains Fay.
Of course, he is not only Devlin in the full back line but, for the record, they are not related. There are a lot of Devlins in that part of Tyrone so, in time-honoured tradition, they nickname the families to differentiate between them. Paul Devlin would be from "The Duke Devlins" while Fay would be one of "The Ogg Devlins". That's how they distinguish us down there", he grins. So now you know.
Taken from Hogan Stand Magazine
15th September, 1995
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