Pat DevlinThe Bray Supremo
By Colm Keane
When the definitive history of Bray Wanderers is written, Pat Devlin will feature prominently as the inspirational manager who steered the club to unprecedented success - winning the FAI Cup (1990 & 1999), the First Division Championship (1986, 1996 & 2000) and the First Division Shield (1996).
"I'll never forget the first day I walked into the Carlisle Grounds", Pat reminisced as he began his tenth full season in charge of the Wanderers. "It was like a meadow. I looked in and and I said 'Am I off my tree going to this?'
Now, when I look at it, it's just unbelievable, the ground, the lights, the new stand, the School of Excellence ... and we're only starting."
Like so many of his contemporaries at Bray Wanderers, Pat Devlin began his football career with St Joseph's Boys Under-13s, playing under mentor Brendan Harmon and winning the Leinster Youths' Cup at Under-17.
"Believe it or not, I started off as a goalkeeper but it didn't last long. We were playing out in a place called Ratoath Road in Cabra, against a team called St Bernard's. And they had a prolific goalscorer called Sammy Kelly, who signed for Blackburn, as it happens.
"Their supporters got behind the goal with peashooters and they kept hitting me with barley. We ended being beaten ten-nil and your man, Sammy Kelly, got eight. So I said, 'Well, I won't be playing in goal any longer'."
The culmination of Devlin's spell at St Joseph's Boys came in 1970 when Pat received his one and only Youth Cap, playing centre forward for Ireland Youths against Northern Ireland at Tolka Park.
"The one thing I remember about that event was how unprofessional it all was. I remember going to my grandmother's in Sandymount for my dinner on the way and got caught in traffic on the number three bus.
"There was no preparation, there were no meetings, nothing. We just arrived, played the game and had a bit of dinner afterwards. So I was very disappointed from that point of view," Pat said.
During 1970 and 71, Pat Devlin played as a centre forward for Shamrock Rovers reserves, having joined the club along with Eugene Davis, Paul Whelan and Tony McGuirk for St Joseph's Boys.
"At that time, Shamrock Rovers were in decline. The club was starting to slip. There was a lot of coming and going. And they wanted ready-made players.
"The illustrious years were coming to an end. Billy Young was the manager, and they still had Paddy Ambrose, Liam Tuohy, Frank O'Neill, Joe Haverty, with Mick Smyth in goal. "I always remember I used to get the bus into Donnybrook and walk up to the ground. We used to have to pay our own bus fares as well. It was hard going.
"After a while, I started working in the building trade. It sort of took its toll. You couldn't do both. So I decided this isn't for me and I'd rather go back and play locally."
Following his departure from Shamrock Rovers, Pat Devlin joined TEK where, intermittently, he spent the next ten years as player, player manager, coach and manager, winning the Intermediate Cup, a few Leinster Senior Leagues, the Metropolitan Cup, and winning representative honours with the Leinster League.
"I always supported TEK as a boy," Pat told me. "They were just up the road from me and I always went to see them playing.
"In those days they were probably as big as any club in the Premier Division is now. Remember, there was only one League of Ireland division at the time. So TEK were next to that. They had some very good players, like Willie Fogarty, Eamon Turner and Ray Murphy, and they usually got a good run in the cup."
For a short spell during his TEK tenure Pat played for Dalkey United, where he achieved a career highlight by scoring the winning goal against Limerick in a 1976 FAI Cup tie at the Market's Field.
"I'll never forget that day. Mick Dalton was manager at the time. He brought us down to Limerick to stay overnight. I never saw anything like the rain next morning. We did our little workout in a public park and it was lashing.
"Kevin Fitzpatrick was in goal for Limerick. He was a hero of mine in those days. The ball just came to me and although people always say it hit the underside of the cross bar, it didn't ... it went straight in.
"I remember the next day in the papers Mick Dalton saying that there were bonfires on the hills of Dalkey when the train got in. But we came back by car and there wasn't even a firecracker in Dalkey. He was gas."
In the 1970s, Pat took his first steps in management with St Joseph's Boys, handling a succession of Joe's teams from Under-12s right through to Under-18s.
"I was forced into it. Tommy Tallant said, 'We've done a little bit for you, it's time to pay us back a bit.' So that's how it started.
"I worked under Mick Lambkin who ran a team for seven or eight years. 'Ally' Smith was one of the players. Mick Doogan and Derek Gough were also there. They all played League of Ireland later on.
"The first thing I learned came from Mick Lambkin. I was running out onto the pitch after Derek Gallagher, our goalkeeper, got hurt. Mick said 'Take that with you, you'll need that more than anything else.' It was a handkerchief for the tears. I'll always remember that.
"Mick had a great way with players, the psychology he'd use and the little games he'd play. He was very well organised in all aspects, from first aid right through to the kit and gear. He kept notes on all the players and his training was different all the time. He was a big influence.
In the 1985/86 season, Pat Devlin joined Bray Wanderers as manager, having previously spent a spell as a player with the club, under managers Mick Meagan and Pat Dunne.
In his first season, he led Bray to the First Division Championship, losing just one game, and he soon became known for his inspirational, fiery coaching techniques.
"I suppose the funniest story happened with Mick Doohan. Prior to the FAI Cup semi-final against Derry (1990) we did a lot of preparation. I said to Mick, 'This fellow Speake is one hell of a player. You look after him.'
"Unfortunately, Speake ran riot in the first half and we were getting beaten one-nil. So I turned to John Holmes and said, 'At half-time, I'm going to have a go at Mick and let on to punch him, to get a spark out of him ... but you make sure you stand in my way and stop me.'
"So I went in and had a go. I made a run at Mick. But I slipped on the floor and he's standing over me, and he's six foot three.
"Holmes was laughing and all the other lads were laughing. But the importance of the event didn't go amiss. I tore into them and when they went out I fell around the place laughing. Afterwards, Mick asked me if I would have hit him. I said, 'I might have.' But he said, 'I'd have hit you back'."
Bray Wanderers went onto win that historic FAI Cup semi-final against Derry, eventually taking the field at Lansdowne Road before a crowd of 30,000 in the final against St Francis.
"I went to see St Francis eleven times before the final. I'll never forget the last time I saw them play. It was a Sunday morning and the fellow at the gate said 'Not you again.'
"We were also one of the first teams to get to use Lansdowne Road for training. I insisted on that, and we ran the length and breadth of the pitch just to soak up the atmosphere of the place. I even got the lads to wave to the empty stands.
"Then we were told just before the match that we had to delay the kickoff because they couldn't cope with the crowd outside. So we just sat down and relaxed. And everything went well for us.
"It was a very emotional day. My brother had only just passed away earlier that year. There was a lot of sentiment involved in it. It was certainly a stepping stone to what I achieved later on."
Following three spells away from Bray as technical director at Shamrock Rovers and manager of Athlone Town and Drogheda United, Pat Devlin went on to further success at Bray Wanderers.
He eventually linked with Kenny Dalglish at Liverpool, Blackburn, and later at Newcastle, while also being selected as manager of the National League representative side.
"I think I have great leadership qualities. I think I'm a very good organiser. And I'm a good motivator. I leave nothing to chance. I like to make sure everything is done properly.
"Being a manager is not easy. Ultimately, you've got to make the decisions. I have to gamble with players, but the one thing is they will always get a chance.
"I suppose a lot of the girlfriends and wives think I'm a bit of a disaster because I push the players a lot. But there's no other way. If they want to gain something from the game, they've got to put the work in.
"For me personally, I think the achievement of getting the School of Excellence together is great for everybody concerned. But, at the end of the day, I think what would give me most pleasure in the next couple of years is to see Bray Wanderers up there with the best and winning the Premier League."
Award-winning broadcaster and writer, author of A Cut Above The Rest (Townhouse, 1999), as well as Tales of the Wanderers (Colado, 1998; an earlier version of this article is included in that volume) and More Tales of the Wanderers (Colado, 2000), together with other volumes based on his work for RTÉ Radio.
Copyright © Colm Keane 1998; all rights reserved, no re-publication without the author's permission