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Devlin still starring for Stewartstown Harps
By Cian OConnell
A couple of decades later Gareth Devlin is still delivering for Stewartstown Harps.
Back in 2005 Devlin was the talented teenager as Stewartstown reached an AIB All-Ireland Club JFC Final only to be beaten by Finuge in Portlaoise.
Finuge featured Paul Galvin and Eamonn Fitzmaurice, who is ironically involved in the Fossa backroom ahead of next Sundays Croke Park clash.
Devlin starred as Stewartstown eventually edged out Clifden at Dr Hyde Park on Saturday so another national decider beckons.
I think the older you get you just learn to enjoy the moment, lap it up whenever you can, Devlin says. This is all new to all of our players - the interviews, photographs, and videos. We have been called into the primary schools the whole year between the county finals, Ulster and stuff. Just getting that support.
Everything is new, and I keep saying to the lads just live it up because you don't know when these days will ever come back at club level. So it is unreal. The buzz around the club is brilliant.
That is something Devlin appreciates the sense of excitement accompanying a critical match. Three of us on the squad were there in 2004 and 2005, we went to the All-Ireland final, but unfortunately got beat by a very strong Finuge team, he recalls.
They had Paul Galvin, Eamonn Fitzmaurice, and Eamonn Breen - a really good team. Now I'm getting more experienced because I was only 16 back then.
So I was like a rabbit in the headlights, I didn't really know what was going on. I thought winning was normal. This year I'm really appreciating that winning feeling, getting back to winning ways.
It was a time when Devlin was well versed in performing at Croke Park for Stewartstown and also Tyrone minor teams. I was actually chatting to our chairman the other day, there was a stage in my life when I started playing with Stewartstown - that Tyrone minor season - when I didn't lose a championship match right through until the All-Ireland club final, he laughs.
So you almost think that winning is normal, that this is easy, that it is class. In the last seven, eight, or nine years I was thinking that I'd never win another championship, that I was going to struggle here.
Joint Tyrone managers Feargal Logan and Brian Dooher.
To get that burden off my own shoulders, especially coming to the end of my career, it has been a great year. Hopefully we can top it off on Sunday.
Watching the Stewartstown story unfold with a different perspective is nice too. It is brilliant, he replies. The last time I was there it was Feargal Logan putting an arm around me, trying to get me to keep a level head, to get me performing.
Now I find myself doing that with the younger lads on the team. Honestly I'm just glad I'm part of it because it is a great set-up this year. A new management team came in, it freshened us up, everyone is raring to go.
Logan quietly provided advice, but more importantly, inspiration, always. It is exceptional what that man has done for Tyrone football last year, Devlin responds with genuine warmth and affection.
For Stewartstown people and Stewartstown football he has done so much for us. He is an absolute legend to everyone in Stewartstown. If you've ever chatted to him he is a lovely, lovely fella.
Everybody looks up to him. He was there on Saturday, I was chatting to him after the match, he was absolutely buzzing. I'm hoping that he gets down because he always spoke about Croke Park with the club, I hope he gets down to watch the lads.
If Tyrone win they might have a semi-final of the McKenna Cup on Sunday, Brian Dooher might be on the line by himself.
Considering the promise and potential Devlin demonstrated during a decorated underage career, is there a feeling that he could have achieved more at senior inter-county level with Tyrone? 100 per cent I could have given it a hell of a lot more, Devlin answers with admirable honestly.
I just think personally I had played a lot of football. I started with the Tyrone minors when I was only 15, going on 16.
So I played an awful lot of football, year after year after year of really intense football. I think if I had come in when I was 21 having not played all of that football I could have given a better account of myself whenever I was there.
Unfortunately it didn't work out. I do regret it, I definitely do. I feel like I left myself down bigtime, that I didn't push on with Tyrone to be honest.
Gareth Devlin won an All-Ireland minor title with Tyrone in 2004.
Is that difficult to deal with? It is life, you have to accept that it is done, Devlin says. The biggest pain is that in 2007, I was only 18, I was called into the McKenna Cup squad.
I would like to say I was too young and naive, I got really anxious around the bigger players you had walking around with Brian Dooher and Stephen O'Neill. It was just like I don't think I'm cut out for this and I walked out of training one night.
To me that was where it all went wrong because the year after that they won the All-Ireland. I was called back in for 2009, that is when I gave it a year and a half. It wasn't happening.
The U21 season collided with the senior season that same year, myself and Jason McAnulla from Omagh, we were set out that we were only allowed to train with the seniors once a week.
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