John Devine was recruited to Geelong as a 20-year-old, from Colac in 1960, and debuted against Footscray at the Whitten Oval, in Round 1 of that year. He held his place in the senior team in his first year and quickly became an integral part of a Geelong team which was on the rise. In fact, John only played in two Reserves Grade games during his 7 year career at Geelong, both of those on the way back from injury.
John would go on to play 118 games for the Cats, represent Victoria, play in the 1963 Premiership team, was Vice Captain from 1961 – 1966, and was runner up in the Clubs Best & Fairest twice, in 1960 and 1965. He was non playing coach from 1986 – 88, was awarded Life Membership in 1993, and inducted into the Geelong Football Club Hall of Fame in 2002.
Players who played with him still speak of him as one of those special players. One of the champions. When I spoke to his teammates about what they remember of John and his playing days, the tone of their voice changed and they all adopted a seriousness and reverence… they wanted to make a point about John, and how highly they thought of him.
Colin Rice said that John (or “Colac” as he was known), was “as tough and as courageous as they come” … that “there was only one way for John and that was straight ahead”, … the most dangerous place to stand, was in that space between John Devine and the ball…. Because getting the ball was John’s complete focus…. “he was as hard at the ball as anyone who ever played the game”.
Ricey said that John was fearless, and “God help anyone who did the wrong thing by taking one of our boys out unfairly” - he was a protector, a watchman. Colin Rice said that John was the most courageous player he has ever played with. He also said that John was just as gentle, off the ground, as he was fierce on the field. A true gentleman and a family man.
John Sharrock said that if he was ever in a war and in the trenches, he would want John Devine to be beside him. He said he was “tough and fearless, he was loyal, and he was a champion footballer, but above all John Devine is a good bloke”.
In 1963 John Sharrock played two practice games on John Devine. Sharrock could only manage one goal in the two games and hardly got a kick. When coming off the ground at the end of the second game, coach Bob Davis asked Devine about Sharrock, “What’ll we do with him?” Devine’s response was simple….“give him a game”… and the rest is history… they would play together later that year with Colin Rice and that “63 team, and take home the Premiership.
John Devine’s last game for the Cats was the Semi Final loss to Essendon in 1966 at the MCG. He was suspended for four matches in this game for striking David Shaw, and it would signal the end of his career at Geelong.
During his VFL suspension he went to Tasmania where he coached North Hobart from the outer, while still under suspension, and later joined them on the field that year to coach them to a Tasmanian Football League premiership, where he featured as best on ground in the Grand Final.
That 1967 season would launch John’s incredible career in Tasmania, and an extraordinary run of successes which included three premierships as captain coach of North Hobart, Captain of Tasmania’s Interstate team, North Hobart Team of the Century captain, and Life Member, Tasmanian Football Hall of Fame inductee, and in 2014 he was inducted as a Legend in the Tasmanian Football Hall of Fame.
John Devine was a big game player in the backline which he dominated more often than not, he appears as one of the best on the ground in Grand Finals and Interstate games. He was certainly one for the big occasion, both as a player and a coach.
1986 would see John Devine return as coach of the Geelong Football Club that he loved so much.
Tim Darcy, who played under him said that John was one of the “most loyal people you would ever find”, and a true showman… he also said that he was passionate, committed and a real “people person”… he truly cared for his players.. and they knew it. Tim said that John had a great rapport with the common man, he was old school, in that his care for his players was paramount.
Tim recalled a story of when John was having some pretty frank and serious discussions with his players as a group and John spoke to Gavin Exell directly.. “and you, Exell, all you want to do is argue”… to which Gavin, undaunted, replied “no I don’t”.. and the room was sent into fits of laughter…
Tim also recalls one of John’s hard talks at half time when they were being soundly beaten… at the end of the pep talk John punched the post to make his point… not realizing it was a metal pole. He waited for his players to run out onto the ground before he showed any sign of discomfort, not wanting his players to see him display any pain.
Andrew Bews, who also played under Devine said that John was ahead of his time as a coach… that he wanted to introduce a new style of play, which was a hard sell to some of the players. Bewsy says that John “oozed passion”.. he was never afraid to say what he thought, even if he knew his comments and opinions would be unpopular. He was as courageous as a coach, as he was as a player.
Bewsy also said that John was close to his players… and that he always put the Club first… He was a true Geelong man… through and through.
John Devine’s name squarely belongs in the list of people who have won the R.J. Hickey Award over the years…These people have shaped our club, through passion and selflessness over decades. His devotion to the Geelong Football Club, and his commitment to the game of Australian football has been outstanding and we are very proud of him.
History will judge John Devine as one of the fiercest, most loyal Geelong men, in the 162 year history of our great Club. His courage and passion as a player, and his unwavering care for his players as a coach and a mentor, will be central to his story and to his legacy.