The 'keeper of the flame' - Fr Michael Devine
The Christmas card with the Florida postcard arrived: inside he wrote 'keep me informed about the Rovers'. The standard generous cheque for passing on the The Showgrounds was enclosed.
Fr. Michael Devine, the priest who introduced soccer to Summerhill College, is in his 80's now. Even though he continues to live most of each year in Florida, his heart remains very much in Sligo. The generations of Sligo Rovers who were not around when he was based in Summerhill deserve to know his role in our club's history.
Michael Devine is from Ballygar in Co Roscommon: he was a boarder in Summerhill College and is mentioned in the biography of his contemporary, former Taoiseach, the late Albert Reynolds. When he returned as a teacher, in the sixties he introduced soccer to the College. At the time it was a controversial move because the GAA banned its members from playing 'foreign games'.
Under Fr Devine Summerhill won their first senior All-Ireland titles. He also introduced students to wrestling and became a 'mover and shaker' at administrative level in both sports. During the summer holidays he began to do parish work in the United States. Summerhill students gave him the nickname 'Ricky', in honour of his transatlantic excursions.
He eventually moved, full-time to Florida but returns to Sligo at least once a year. Seamus and Dorothy Foy, old friends from Collegians days, usually meet him once he lands at Shannon. Tommy Higgins of Rosses Point and his former classmates from Summerhill arrange an annual lunch with him. Sometimes he stays with Leo Boland from Dromard who played on one of his All-Ireland winning teams. A year ago, Fr Devine, organised a memory-filled tour to Florida for the most recent Summerhill All-Ireland winning side.
Sligo's Christmas present to him this year was the news that a grandson of Johnny Armstrong, Gary, who is one more product of the Summerhill assembly line, had signed for The Rovers.
Like the late Fr Cyril Haran, who encouraged generations of soccer players in the north west, Fr Michael Devine is a legend.
By Tommie Gorman
Photo shows Fr Devine with Seamus 'Ski' Foy