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Michael Devlin | Red Matchday Interview

August 7, 2018 12:36 am Author: Malcolm Panton

 

Michael Devlin has been outstanding in his first three games as an Aberdeen player, showing why the manager was so keen to bring the central defender to Pittodrie in January. Mikey has had to work extremely hard these past six months to regain full fitness, but that hard work has paid off.  He spoke to the Red Matchday magazine editor recently:

 

Having nearly 150 senior games to your name despite only being 24 and losing a full season to a cruciate knee injury, as well as wearing the captain’s armband at a Premiership club, marks you down as being a footballer a little bit out of the ordinary.

Having to wait six months to make your debut for your new club also puts you down as somebody with a fair bit of patience too, but the waiting game is now over for defender Michael Devlin after joining the Dons in January.

So desperate was Derek McInnes to bring him in that there was no hesitation in signing Devlin in January even though he was still recovering from that knee injury, knowing full well he was unlikely to play any part for Aberdeen last term. But that’s all behind him. The future starts now.

“I could not wait to start playing again. When you have a long term injury, the mental side is the hardest thing to deal with. I’ve had two of them now and I spent time during both speaking to sports psychologists to make sure I tried to keep on top of things. As much as you need to try and be positive, you have days when you do lack motivation. You need the tools to be able to deal with that, be it other people, music, or books. You need wee things that will pick you up.

“Everyday going into a gym and doing the same stuff, it is monotonous, and boring but the goal is to get back out on the pitch and that is what you work towards. I had a massive lift when I came here in January. It gave me that love of football again, and I was not even fit. I spoke to the manager and he had a vision for me. He wanted me to do my rehab and then fight for a place in the first team here. I loved coming in here every day and doing my work. The medical staff are brilliant and they all made it easy for me in terms of me being able to do my job and getting back out on the pitch. I would like to thank them for doing that.

“This squad is the best group of boys I have ever come across. I wasn’t even playing last season but immediately I knew this was a changing room I wanted to be part of. There is great mix of youth and experience. The more senior players were brilliant in terms of integrating me into the club and there is a good group of young players coming through. From top to bottom, everyone working at the club pulls together and it’s a great place to be.”

As we expected Mikey has slotted into the defence but as he points out, that hasn’t always been his position.

“I don’t think anyone starts off as a defender! You start off in a forward position and then work your way back because you are not good enough! I started off as a midfielder, played centre-mid and then as I got older, I realised I was not cut out to be a box to box midfielder. Occasionally I even played up front but since I started to take my football a bit more seriously, I have been a central defender even though I was not always the tallest. That made it quite tough. As time went on though I grew and filled out a bit.

“My first memories of playing football would have been when I was three or four, running about trying to kick a ball. I had an older brother so I used to tag about along with him. My Dad coached my brother’s team, Jerviston Boys Club. I would go along to training and kick the ball about with them. Occasionally I would get chucked on as a last minute sub. Playing against guys who were four years older than me certainly toughened me up from a young age!

“Every young boy has their head full of nonsense that you are going to make it as a professional footballer. There is a blind belief in yourself that you will make it. But once I went full-time with Hamilton and trained a couple of times with the first team and got into that environment, I thought I didn’t feel too far out of my depth. That was when I started to think I had a chance to make it to a first team. First team football is very different. Even after you have played a couple of games, it’s still difficult to tell if you are good enough at that level.

“My mum is a teacher, a guidance teacher though now she’s a deputy head. Particularly with her role as a guidance teacher, she dealt with a few boys over the years who had gone on and played football but had all their ‘eggs in one basket’ so to speak. She was determined I wouldn’t do that. As far as she was concerned I would play football but pursue my studies as well.

“Coincidentally, Mark Reynolds grew up along the street from me. Mark was very academic and did very well with his exam results so his name was mentioned to me over and over again! “If Mark can do it, you can do it” was something I heard a lot! It was very important to my mum that I stuck in at school to make sure there was a safety net there.

“I got released from Hearts at U15 level and was on trial with Aberdeen with Peter Weir at the Glasgow Centre for a couple of week before playing in a bounce game which was organised so Lenny Taylor and Neil Simpson could run their eye over me. They made the decision that I was worthy of taking a chance on, so I came into the Academy at played for the U17s. I had a year or so playing for the 17s before I left.

“Peter was brilliant for me personally. He knew exactly what I needed at that stage of my development. He knew what it was going to take for me to go full time. He had a big influence over me and my career. I was probably in a bit of denial of where I was and in terms of being ready to step up. I remember we had a meeting with my Dad and Peter, a sort of progress report, and Peter said I was doing ok, but, “Ok was not good enough if you want to go full time at this club”. That was probably the kick up the backside that I need. I went away and worked harder.

“Peter was a massive influence in setting the standards that you need individually and as a squad of boys in the Glasgow centre. There were a few good players there at time. Craig Murray, Stephen O’Neill, Declan McManus and then the year above there was Callum McRobbie, Nicky Low, Jonny Crawford and Stephen O’Donnell. It was certainly successful in producing players who could come and compete for a place within full-time clubs.

“Stephen O’Donnell is a good friend. We have known each other since we were kids. We used to kick a ball about with each other when we were very young pretending we were good players! He has turned into a decent player, not sure what happened to me!

“I did have the opportunity to turn professional earlier than I did but my mum insisted that I stayed on to do my Highers. My education took priority. I was basically not allowed to leave school at that point!

“Moving to Hamilton, their sales pitch is still that you will get an opportunity to play in the first team if you are good enough. There is a clear pathway. I had been released from Celtic at the time, I was deemed not worthy of a full-time contract, and within six months I had played for the Hamilton first team against Rangers at Ibrox. Ok, my chance came about because of injury, but I had been in that environment and was the next one in line to get a chance. That is a big thing. If you are working and doing what you need to do, and showing that you are good enough, you will get an opportunity at some point. It is then up to you to take that chance.

“They don’t dress it up. They tell you exactly what you are coming into, so your eyes are wide open in terms of how the club works. You’re not there to be waited on hand and foot. You are there to give everything you have got and in turn, they will give you a chance to play in the first team and showcase what you can do. If that leads to a younger player progressing and then moving on it benefits the player and the club.

“Billy Reid had great faith and belief in young players. In terms of his relationship with is players, his style of management was slightly different. He would not drill players out on the training pitch and go through shape and how his team would play, but in terms of his relationship with young players, he gave them an opportunity and that is all you want. He was good with me. I was in and out of the team a lot at that time which was frustrating but, looking back, it was because I was not ready to play week in, week out. My opportunities were limited but that was more down to me and not the manager. I have a high regard for Billy and because he gave me an opportunity I will always be grateful to him. He was the one that believed in me.

“I also had a loan spell at Stenhousemuir which I loved. I’d played in the first team at Hamilton but in hindsight, I needed to go and get my eyes opened a bit. It was the Second Division at the time, League One now. I played every game under Dave Irons, who was manager there. Physically, I realised I was not ready and needed to do a bit of work growing up physically and mentally.

“We were in a relegation dogfight the year I was there but we managed to stay up and I was proud to play my part. It was my first taste of playing every week, Saturday afternoon at three. It was a great experience”.

Returning to Hamilton, Michael was soon back in the first team and that was quickly followed by the award of the captaincy.

“There were more senior players at the club at time, but I felt within the changing room I had proved myself as a player and was in the reckoning. When the manager took me aside and spoke to me about it, I felt it was something I was capable of taking on. I knew it was something I would relish instead of worrying about. I was delighted to get the captain’s armband at 22. I was young, but I was ready for it. I was ready to take on that responsibility.

“The more natural leaders you have in your team, it can only stand you in good stead. Even before I got given the armband at Hamilton, it was something Alex Neil spoke to me about. As a centre-half, you need to be vocal. You need to organise the players round about you and you need to be a communicator. Whether or not you are wearing an armband, everybody has a responsibility to firstly affect the game individually but also affect other people. I think that is a sign of a good player if you can influence other people in your team. It is a massive plus for everyone if you have these types of players in the side and we do. I’ve been very impressed by that.

“I’m a driven guy. I know what I want and I know what I want to achieve. A little shake or a wobble, that is inevitable in life, that is one thing I have learned, it is impossible to be 100% all the time. That is when you rely on the people round about you.

“I have been very lucky that I have had my mum and dad and pals round about me who are there for support. They take your mind off things and chat through what you are struggling with. When you get knocked down, you just have to get on with it. There is no point in over thinking things. Until someone tells me that I can’t play football anymore, I will keep working hard and doing everything I possibly can to make it.

“I always had a belief in myself that I would make it. Injuries are part and parcel of football and also getting released. I was as a youngster, that is part and parcel as well. At the end of the day, it is just someone else’s opinion of you. It does not mean they are right. You have to prove them wrong. I aim to keep on doing that.

“To get in the first team here at this club is very difficult. You need to be something special and I remember how that was drummed into us when I was at the AFC Youth Academy. If you want an opportunity, you have to be exceptional. Scott McKenna has certainly been that since he came into the team and that is why he is here. So when I came back to the club, I knew it was a special thing to be part of this football club and challenging for a place in the first team.

“There is one major team in the city and everyone gets behind the team. We are challenging to be the best team in the country again this season. We want to compete and be successful and win trophies. What player does not want to be part of that?

“This is the best job in the world. Yes there are pressures and the injuries which can affect your opinion on that from time to time, but I love being at a club like Aberdeen. It has been hard work, getting fit again and then real hard work in pre-season over the past few weeks building up to these important games, but I have loved every minute of it”.

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