When Wanderers NPL2 captain Cameron Devlin first crossed paths with Western Sydney he was a quiet, unassuming 14-year-old enjoying his third season at Sutherland Sharks.
He had just come off the pitch against Sydney United at Seymour Shaw when the club president walked him up the grandstand where Wanderers youth coach Trevor Morgan offered Devlin a trial on the spot.
Five years on and Devlin is a capped Young Socceroo, lauded by Morgan as “the total package” and one of the most exciting prospects to emerge from the hotbed of footballing talent that is the Sutherland Shire.
“That was the first time any club had ever approached me so it was a major shock”, says Devlin, as he recalls one of the most important moments in his career to date.
“I had always wanted to become a professional but after that I knew there could be anyone watching my games and I took my game to the next level.”
The charismatic central midfielder continues to surprise himself with every passing season. Devlin played for Sutherland from U12s to first grade but was never considered captaincy material. After being anointed co-captain alongside fellow midfielder and best mate Keanu Baccus, Devlin has grown immeasurably in stature on and off the field.
He has self-admittedly emerged from his shell after donning the Red & Black as a train-on player with the Foxtel National Youth League side in 2015, where the likes of Jonathan Aspropotamitis and former Wanderer Daniel Alessi took the Shire local under their collective wing.
“I think training with some of the older boys like Aspro and Daniel Alessi showed me a different side of the game – they got the best out of me.
“Now as one of the leaders in the team I feel like it’s my turn to get the best out of the younger boys who are coming up now.”
Devlin might only be 18 but he carries a wealth of footballing experience having played in Canada with Collingwood United and the UK with Ipswich Town as part of Sutherland’s U16 scholarship program.
The gruelling but ultimately rewarding one-month stint with the Tractor Boys saw a 15-year-old Devlin live the life of a professional athlete in what was a great opportunity to prepare early for what is to come.
“Every day I had to wake up, get a bus to training, you’re there until six, you come home for dinner and then go to sleep.
“You’ve got to give everything every time you’re on the park.”
Devlin trained with the Ipswich first team on multiple occasions before returning home to Sutherland where he continued to rise through the senior ranks at Seymour Shaw.
With the Wanderers Academy showing its first signs of bearing fruit recently, the former Shark is eager to draw comparisons between the recently-established Western Sydney institution and one of the state’s primary breeding grounds for football.
“When you’re young at Sutherland they don’t just want to win games, they want to teach you how to play which is going to benefit you further on in your career.
“So even if you have a big, fast striker who is scoring goals all the time, coaches will encourage you to take the first step and play out from the back.
“Maybe you don’t win all the games you play when you’re younger but they have a way they want to play from the U12s to the first team – you know what you need to do and you know what’s expected of you.”
“It’s the same here at the Wanderers: there are U16s that have come up the U20s now and they know exactly what to do and no one feels out of place when they’re stepping up if you can move the ball quicker”
The Wanderers head to Pluim Park on Sunday to take on Central Coast Mariners in the NPL with kick-off at 3pm. Their next home match is Saturday 6 August against North Shore Mariners.