WHEN Granemore’s Ciarrai Devlin takes to the field this Saturday afternoon in Kingspan Breffni alongside her Armagh camogie team-mates to face Cavan in the All-Ireland Junior Championship final. she will not only feel the hand of history on her young shoulders but she will no doubt also be feeling the tender hand of support from her father, Gerard who sadly passed away at the start of September.
Like her father was in his youth, Ciarrai is a talented and dedicated sportsperson who has shone on many occasions for her club St Mary’s, Granemore and for the Orchard county, both between the posts in the number one jersey but also as an outfield player, such is her versatility.
Gerard Devlin was one of the outstanding hurlers in an Armagh Cuchulliann team that was dominant in Armagh in the late ‘70s and ‘80s. Gerard collected 13 Senior county titles during his glory years on the pitch. He also played for Armagh and Ulster and, when his playing days were over, he became synonymous with the administration and officiating of games at the Athletic Grounds as well as being one of the foremost referees across the country, having refereed the All-Ireland Minor final in 1998. His knowledge of both codes also made him a much sought after coach for hurling, football and camogie teams across the county.
His three children Róisín, Connor and Ciarraí all followed in his sporting footsteps with Róisín and Ciarraí playing starring roles for the Granemore club, of which their mother Bebe has been secretary for almost as long as the club has been in existence.
Connor also inherited his father’s guile with the sliothar and has been a regular in the Armagh hurling set-up for the past 10 years, having played a key role in Armagh’s successful National League win and Nicky Rackard campaigns. Like his father, he has represented his province and in 2015 he won an Allstar, something that was definitely a great source of pride for Gerard.
Sadly Gerard’s sudden passing in early September left a void in the Devlin household but also in the wider Armagh Gaelic sporting fraternity. For young Ciarraí it came just two weeks before she took to the field with her club in the Armagh Senior Championship and although unfortunately for Ciarraí the game ended with defeat for her and her team-mates, she won the admiration of both teams and sets of supporters for her courage and resilience to field in such a big game in such a short time after losing her father.
The game also marked the ability of this young sports-star to show strength in the face of adversity. She joined in with the winning team huddle, Ballymacnab, on the night to share her congratulations with them along with her appreciation and recognition of the support they, alongside the camogie gaels from across the county, had offered her and her family during their bereavement. This marked Ciarraí as someone for whom sport meant much more than winning or losing.
Indeed the Devlin family are very open about the support they received at the time of Gerard’s passing and since, from the local community and sports colleagues. Ciarraí’s mum Bebe said: “There is no doubt that local people and the wider Gaelic sports family got us through the very tough days when we needed them most. We have been overawed by the continued support and kindness we have received, from far and wide. We will be forever grateful for the widespread help we have received from so many people.”
Ciarraí and her family were ready and willing to highlight the support they received to overcome the hurdles, and this Sunday’s All-Ireland final will see another one of those hurdles as there is no doubt that Gerard would have found his way onto the Breffni turf, Covid-restrictions aside, to encourage Ciarrai towards the goal of an All-Ireland medal.
Ciarraí and her family wanted to highlight the importance to anyone who is feeling low, of seeking support or talking with someone. There is always a solution awaiting if it can be sought. They have found great comfort from the services of PIPS and would encourage others in the same situation as they are, to seek help from counselling services such as PIPS.
As Ciarraí steps out onto the turf of Breffni on Saturday her thoughts and focus will be on the team and not herself: “We have worked very hard this year, including all our individual training during the first lockdown. Our team is ready and prepared and while we know that we will need to be at our best against Cavan, we are united and ready for the challenge.
“Six of us were there in the 2016 final when we were beaten by Carlow so we hope to reverse our fortunes for the 2020 final. I’m looking forward to Saturday as the opportunity to play in an All-Ireland final, something that does not come around too often.”
Sounds like the words of a very solid, grounded, talented and strong young lady!
By Sally Rafferty