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Paul Devlin: Coronavirus is frustrating for sport but real issues put it all in perspective

 

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Paul Devlin

Paul Devlin

�INPHO/John McVitty

Paul Devlin

Former Tyrone footballer Paul Devlin fully understands the frustration which players feel as their season is put into cold storage because of the coronavirus crisis.

Last year, Devlin steered his county to the Ulster U20 Football Championship title and already this year he has successfully plotted the retention of this honour which has earned the side an All-Ireland semi-final meeting with Dublin.

But like a plethora of other fixtures, this tie, which was originally fixed for St Patrick's Day, has now had to be put on the back burner as the GAA is shrouded in a blanket of uncertainty with speculation swirling that a fixtures revamp could be in the offing because of the seriousness of the current situation.

Yet while Devlin, in common with thousands of team officials and players throughout the island, is reluctantly kicking his heels in a sporting context right now, he believes that the coronavirus has served to put a lot of things into context.

"It has helped us to take stock of ourselves and while people like myself and indeed my Tyrone team are very keen to get down to business again, we have to reflect on the impact that this particular virus has made on the wider community," insisted Devlin.

"It has shone a light on just how vulnerable some people are in our society and has underlined just how people can be in a decent job one day and then unemployed the next.

"This all helps to keep sport in its place. I know much has been written and said about the value of sport and I for one have enjoyed my involvement in it immensely to date but at the same time we have to take on board that there are real fears out there - people worried about their jobs, their businesses, their families' health, the plight of older members of the community and other issues which the coronavirus has highlighted."

Devlin, the most modest and unassuming of team mentors, is very much a family man at heart and has come to appreciate even more the disruption that has been caused to the lives of many in the province and the island as a whole to date.

"Obviously football of necessity has had to be put on the back burner but we now have time to reflect on where we are," mused Devlin.

"When Tyrone reached the All-Ireland Under-20 semi-final last year, we were beaten by a better Cork side. Immediately after the match I went round my players who were sitting on the ground feeling sorry for themselves and told them to get up onto their feet and fix their minds on going at it again this year.

"We have never worried too much about opponents, we have always focused on being the best we can be and in doing that we can only control the controllables.

"I was thinking about this the other day and that's very similar to the position in which people find themselves today.

"Like us on the sporting front, they are facing a big challenge but they must be as positive as they can be. That's not easy, of course."

While Devlin undoubtedly provides inspiring leadership with the Red Hands, he did not pick this inherent quality up off the stones.

"I was lucky enough to play under some truly great managers such as Brian McEniff when I was in the Ulster team and Art McRory and Eugene McKenna when I was part of the Tyrone team and I learned a great deal from them," stressed Devlin.

"Like everyone else I have been following the television news bulletins every night and I must say that for the most part we are being given great leadership and encouragement by the medical experts and most of our politicians.

"Just like those managers that I played under, these people are trying to inspire us to be as courageous and as diligent as we can be in our current plight.

"I was always told when we hit a bad day in football to get up and get on with it and while people's lives of necessity are restricted to a certain extent at the moment it is very obvious that most of us here are trying to be the best we can in difficult circumstances."

On Saturday, March 7 when Tyrone retained their provincial U20 title by beating Donegal in the final, Devlin's wife Fiona steered St Colm's, Draperstown to victory over St Cluan's, Castleblakney (Galway) in the All-Ireland Schools' Junior camogie final at Kingspan Breffni, Cavan.

Less than a fortnight has elapsed since that significant double feat but much has changed in the province's way of life.

"We did not lose the run of ourselves in celebrating because even then there was speculation that we were on the cusp of what was thought might be a major crisis. That's how things have turned out so we will just take each day as it comes and while we hope that football will resume sooner rather than later, my earnest wish for everyone here is that the coronavirus will not make its predicted impact in the province," added Devlin.

Belfast Telegraph