Devine is a surname we have become use to seeing in Ireland age grade squads in the last couple of years. During last year’s Under-20 Six Nations campaign, it was the scrum half and older brother, Matthew, who was involved.
For the latest edition of the tournament, the Ireland Under-20s are fielding a centre and the youngest of the Devine brothers, John. The latter will be hoping he can follow in his brother’s footsteps and beat France tonight at Musgrave Park (kick-off 8pm).
There is nothing like a bit of old-school brotherly rivalry, and it is something that seems to fuel the drive and sporting success in the Devine household.
From having races to see who can eat their dinner the quickest to seeing who can eat it the slowest on another day, the dinner table was one of the first grounds of competition for the brothers who are only separated by a year and 10 months in age.
John was undoubtedly delighted for his brother and took great pride in his sibling’s U-20 Grand Slam win last year. Living up to those high standards is clearly a driving force for him and his natural competitive edge, the idea that anything you can do, I can do better.
“To be fair to Matthew, since he was the only Connacht player (with the Ireland Under-20s) last year, it was a good feat for him to get here,” said the younger of the Devine duo, who are both in the Connacht Academy.
“I was at home happy for him, but also thinking at the back of my mind, ‘I have to get here next year’. Thankfully I did, and I got my chance last week (against Wales).
“Since we came from our club (Ballinasloe), seeing all of the school lads here is kind of a big feat for us club lads, and seeing Matthew doing it last year gave me a drive to do it this year.”
Rugby is very much a family affair for the Devines, led by their father, former Connacht winger Mike. John and Matthew won the Connacht Schools Senior Cup with Garbally College in 2020, a few years after their eldest brother Joseph had picked up a winners’ medal.
“Rugby has been massive in the family. Dad more so, he played for Connacht back in his heyday, I’ve played rugby since I’ve been around five, same with Matthew. It’s always been the mainstay in our family throughout the years.”
That first half last week against Wales in Colwyn Bay was almost a baptism of fire for an inexperienced Irish back-line, put under the cosh early on. Devine agreed that the first 40 minutes were difficult and that just making it to half-time was important.
“I was really excited to get my first game for the Under-20s under my belt. It was a good ground and the Welsh fans made it a great experience, especially during the national anthem with how loud they got,” explained the 19-year-old.
“There were only 4,000-5,000 there and I could barely hear myself think out in the centre. I could only imagine what it must have been like the next day in Cardiff with the roof closed.
“Wales stuck to their game-plan in trying to rattle us. It probably looked like we were rattled but we knew that we had to settle in until half-time and then reset. Thankfully we did. They are a good side and they did make it tough.
“When we got in at half-time, Richie (Murphy) said they have played a lot of their game and we haven’t played rugby at all. We took solace in that. We broke out in the second half and just played our own game.”
The Ballinasloe native did not get another opportunity to play at schools level after 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic cancelling one season and then a shoulder injury ruled him out for the cup in his final year at school.
These were two unfortunate disruptions at key development stages for such a young player, but he did not let it halt his progress or dwindle his desire to work hard and achieve in the game.
Once the Covid guidelines were set, he decided to make the most of his time and use his surroundings to his advantage.
“We live beside a GAA pitch in Ballinasloe and there was no sport being played there, so we’d hop over the wall and practiced our skills for hours.
“Thankfully our school gave us a bit of gym equipment so we had that out the back every day, so Matthew and I kind of held each other to a standard.
“If one lad was sitting down inside, the other would come and tell him to get up and outside and onto the pitch to practise the skills. It was a good experience for me and I probably took my opportunity where other people didn’t,” he added.