The Ethan Devine fairytale continues — and the good news for Linfield fans is the young striker is determined to write more chapters and feels he is only getting started.
Signed by David Healy from Championship side Knockbreda in January, Devine has already become a cult hero with Blues supporters, scoring dramatic late winning goals which helped the Windsor Park outfit claim their 56th League title last season. Now he is delivering crucial strikes in Europe as well.
Coming off the bench, Devine showed wonderful awareness and a goalscorer’s instinct in extra-time to beat his marker to the ball and finish Chris McKee’s excellent cross, giving the Blues a 2-0 victory over The New Saints in the first qualifying round of the Champions League, which was enough to earn a 2-1 aggregate success.
On his European debut, it was a magical moment for 21-year-old Devine, who in injury time had hit the bar with the score at 0-0 just before Jamie Mulgrew’s stunning strike levelled the tie.
Devine’s eventual intervention means the Blues face Bodo/Glimt in the first leg of their latest Champions League clash at Windsor on Tuesday and are guaranteed a shot at the Europa League and a Play-Off in the Europa Conference League if and when they drop out of the top tournament.
That’s how big it is — at the very worst, the Blues are 180 minutes away from becoming the first Irish League side to reach the group stages of European football and banking millions of pounds.
Asked about his goal, Devine tells Sunday Life Sport: “It meant so much. It was my European debut and to score was unbelievable. What an experience and our win guarantees us three more games in Europe.
“It’s been incredible since I joined Linfield. I’m scoring big goals in big games. It has sort of become a habit. The gaffer thinks I’m some sort of lucky charm.
“At 0-0 when I hit the bar, I knew if I got another chance I would score. I had that hunger in my belly to do it.
“Chris (McKee) burst a gut to get to the ball and I knew he had a decent left peg on him to get a good cross in. The gaffer teaches all the strikers to get across the front post and I knew the defender beside me, who was a good player, wasn’t as fast as me and I felt I could beat him to the ball and thankfully I did.”
The atmosphere inside Windsor when Devine hit the net was electric with thousands of supporters using Belinda Carlisle’s classic hit ‘Heaven is a Place on Earth’ to hail the clinical striker.
“The noise was incredible. The crowd is always great at Linfield and I think they have a chant for me now which is unbelievable,” adds the amiable Devine, who is a popular character in the dressing room.
“I’m buzzing about that. It’s class, especially when I score and everyone starts singing it. I’ve never had anything like that in my life.”
It’s a far cry from playing in front of a few hundred at Knockbreda and watching Champions League matches on television.
“When I was at Knockbreda I watched the highlights of Linfield and the other Irish League teams in Europe,” he reveals.
“I was thinking, ‘I hope to get to play there some time’.
“Once I got the chance to sign for Linfield, I took it straight away. I was only 20 and it was a dream to play in the Champions League and it was a big reason for me coming to Linfield.
“Had you said to me over six months ago that I would be scoring in the Champions League, I’d have been saying, ‘Away and stuff it up you’ but now I’ve done it!
“Across the water, I would watch Liverpool in the Champions League. I rate Jordan Henderson as a very good captain like Jamie Mulgrew at Linfield and I like Bobby Firmino for his tricks. Liverpool are always playing in the Champions League and hopefully one year I’ll get to play against them.”
Informed that exactly 17 years before he scored against TNS, Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard bagged a hat-trick against the Welsh representatives in the Champions League, Devine was like a kid with a new toy.
“Wow! Steven Gerrard’s world class and was one of the best midfielders in the world. It’s amazing to hear that I scored against them on the same date that he did,” says Devine, wide eyed at the thought.
“Hopefully I’ll get to score more big goals in Europe like he did. All I want to do is give everything I can to Linfield for as long as I’m here and help the club be successful.
“This is only the start. The gaffer, the management team and the board have given me a contract extension to 2025 and I want to repay them for that.
“We have Bodo/Glimt now in the next round.
“They beat Celtic and Roma in Europe last season so it will be tough but the gaffer will give us a game plan and we will stick to it and will relish the challenge.”