Cliftonville goalkeeper Conor Devlin may have made the headlines for all the wrong reason’s earlier this month, but the former Manchester United trainee proved his worth in Saturday’s WASP League Cup Final.
Devlin saved two penalties, including one from Colin Coates, as the Reds beat Crusaders 3-2 in a dramatic shoot-out, that will perhaps be best remembered for the 22 year old’s antics.
Devlin exchanged a few pleasantries with the the Crues’ players before referee Raymond Hetherington warned him to stay on his line. But the Belfast goalkeeper had more than mere kidology in his locker. Last season’s Young Player of the Year had spent Friday night online researching Crusaders’ penalty history.
He said: “I hadn’t really thought about penalties until about midnight the night before the game.
“I was probably up until about 3am looking at where every player put them against Linfield in an earlier round.
“They all got to hit one that night so it was handy for me to be able to study them, so I wrote it all down and gave it to our coach Gerard Lyttle and our goalkeeping coach Paul Straney.
“I told them I didn’t want to look at it again unless it went to penalties and I read over it again at the end of extra-time.
“Colin Coates had taken two that night, including the winning one, which he put the same side as his one on Saturday.
“We had a bit of banter before it too. I was shouting at him and he pulled me beard.
“It didn’t get to me at all and maybe he should have concentrated on his penalty more than the beard.”
Devlin’s infamous beard has become a focal point in recent weeks, with Cliftonville fans even penning a terrace chant about the goalkeeper’s facial hair.
Crusaders captain Colin Coates, who ruffled Devlin’s beard before missing his spot kick, dismissed his exchange with the goalkeeper as just a bit of fun.
Coates explained: “It was a laugh, really. I think that’s what makes the Irish League different from the Premier League in England, where everything is so serious.
“It was just a wee bit of banter between myself and Conor, and he got the last laugh because he saved the penalty, so fair play to him.
“Conor’s antics didn’t affect me and they certainly didn’t affect Gary McCutcheon. I’m sure Gary’s antics didn’t affect Conor Devlin, it’s all part of the game and it shouldn’t be taken too seriously.
“Conor was trying to psyche me out, but that’s not why I missed, I just hit a rubbish penalty.”
Devlin’s Cliftonville team mate Liam Boyce believes the goalkeeper deserve a lot of credit for his performance in the cup final.
Boyce said: “You’d think with all the paper talk in recent weeks, things would go to his head, but he’s been brilliant. He has went out and proved all the critics wrong. He put in a big performance and it has won us the cup.”