Tyrone GAA star Niall Devlin opens up on the loss of his brother Caolan in A5 car crash

Tyrone's Niall Devlin
-Credit: (Image: ©INPHO/Leah Scholes)

Tyrone GAA star Niall Devlin has spoken about the heartbreaking loss of his brother Caolan following a crash on the A5 road earlier this year.

Caolan Devlin, 30, died in March following an accident between a car and a lorry on the Curr Road stretch of the A5 between Omagh and Ballygawley.

Tyrone GAA's Centre of Excellence at Garvaghey is just off the A5 road and, on the night of the crash, Niall was at training.

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Afterwards, the players had stayed for food and were informed that there’d been an accident on the main road. Anyone heading towards Omagh was advised to seek an alternative route.

As he made his way out to the A5 road, heading left for Coalisland, Niall observed the police signs indicating that the road to the right was indeed closed.

Speaking on the BBC’s GAA Social podcast, Nial recalled the details of that night and how his father broke the news of his brother’s death to him.

“We’d played Kerry the weekend before in the League,” said Devlin.

“On the Tuesday night, I was talking to Caolan that day, as you do any day.

“We’d training that night with Tyrone and we were sitting for food after, as we always do. I think it was Paddy the caretaker who came in and said, 'boys whoever is going Omagh direction you need to take a detour, there has been a massive car accident, the police have the whole road closed off’.

"You're thinking 'not again, not another family'. . . obviously you're never thinking it would be your own."

As he did every night after training with Tyrone, Devlin called his father on the way home.

"I got on to the main Dungannon road heading for the house and rang my dad as usual. When I rang him, I knew there was something up, just by his voice, it was shaky,” added Devlin.

“He said ‘Niall you need to get home’ - I didn't have a clue what was going on and that is when I heard my mummy crying in the background. My dad said 'Caolan has been in an accident - just get home’ - Maybe I was in denial and I hadn’t put two and two together that I had just come past that accident.

"I got into the house and every single member of my family was there and I broke down. . . when I caught eyes with my dad he said Caolan had passed.

"I got home at 9pm and next time I looked at the clock it was 5am. It is a night you will never forget; it will live forever in your memory. You just have to learn to deal with it.

"At that time, I went into Caolan's room and sat there distraught. Ones were coming in and out, but you can’t even remember at times who came in and out.

“That night Caolan returned home, that was a tough night as that's when it really hit, I didn't get a wink of sleep. I think that was one of the hardest moments - the undertakers coming in and calling us in to see Caolan. That’s when it really all hit for me.

“It was a really tough moment, when they opened up the coffin, seeing your brother lying there. It just took the soul out of you nearly at that moment.”

The Coalisland and Tyrone GAA communities rallied around Niall and his family in the days following Caolan’s tragic passing.

After captaining Tyrone to All-Ireland U20 success in 2022, Devlin has become a regular starter for the seniors this season.

One week after Caolan was laid to rest, Niall made an emotional return to action for the Red Hands, playing a starring role in their crucial round six win over Monaghan at O’Neills Healy Park. The victory, played in horrendous conditions, meant Tyrone retained their Division One status for 2025.

Devlin revealed he returned to training two days after Caolan’s funeral feeling it was best to get back playing football as soon as possible, although he admitted driving on the same stretch of road that claimed his brother’s live “scared” him.

“The funeral was on Saturday and we’d a gym session on Monday night so I went up and did that - it was the best thing for me looking back on it.

“Driving up the road to training, I had never been as scared driving in my life, because of the road and everything that happened and seeing all that.”

To Niall’s surprise, he was included in the starting team for the upcoming clash with Monaghan and, before the game, a minute’s silence was held in Caolan’s memory.

Every member of the Tyrone squad, including members of the management team and backroom staff, linked arms with Niall across the pitch in a show of solidarity with the Devlin family.

Niall Devlin in action against Monaghan's Killian Lavelle at O'Neills Healy Park. The Division One game in March took place one week after the funeral of Niall's brother Caolan
Niall Devlin in action against Monaghan's Killian Lavelle at O'Neills Healy Park. The Division One game in March took place one week after the funeral of Niall's brother Caolan -Credit:©INPHO/Andrew Paton

"When I heard there was going to be a minute's silence and everyone was going to be lined up. . . I thought that was a really nice touch and when we lined up it hit me. . that was a tough minute,” said Devlin.

"The togetherness at the time was nice for me and my family. Once we were all lined up, I knew my family would be proud and Caolan would be even prouder looking down.

"The 70 minutes was tough, by the end of it I was wrecked. Especially in the conditions too. It was brutal that night. We’ve a photo in the house of me, mummy and daddy after that game and I’m covered in muck from head to toe!

“It was a tough night, but one you’ll always remember. I remember the final whistle being blown and I remember Darragh Canavan and ‘Dazzler’ (Darren McCurry) making a bee-line for me. It was a nice moment. Credit to the Monaghan players who came up and offered their condolences too, which I’ll always remember.”

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