Ole Gunnar Solskjaer: Manchester United boss has 'ruthless streak' says Larne's Conor Devlin

Watch former Manchester United keeper Conor Devlin in action on Saturday as Larne travel to face Crusaders in the Northern Irish Premiership, live on Sky Sports Football and Main Event from 12.20pm

Connor Devlin
Image: Former Manchester United goalkeeper Conor Devlin, who played under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer when he was reserve-team boss, now plays for Larne in the Northern Irish Premiership

Manchester United's table-topping form might have come as a surprise to some but not to Larne goalkeeper Conor Devlin.

Devlin started his career at Old Trafford as a 16-year-old in 2008 where he was able to study under a goalkeeping legend, Edwin van der Sar, and also worked with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer when the Norwegian took charge of United's reserve team with Warren Joyce.

Looking back on his time in England, Devlin says Solskjaer certainly had the steel and desire needed to be a top manager - and it was evident right from the start.

"When he stepped into the manager's job with the reserves, I think everyone was still in awe because he'd just come out of being a player and obviously with me being a young player, it was that divide of 'was he your friend or was he your boss?' and how do you take him?" says Devlin.

"He's a great man and was good for the younger players but he definitely has a ruthless streak and that 'boss mentality' and I think he's showing that now as a manager.

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (PA Image) 0:37
Solskjaer says United taking more points from tight games this season has been down to 'a great improvement in mentality and physical robustness'

"There are some big players in that changing room and he's had to make some big decisions and he's made them and stuck by them.

"Watching him in press conferences and interviews, you can still see it's the same person and I hope he gets the results and I hope the team plays for him in the way they should, and I hope that they can kick on and do well for him, but not only him - for the club as a whole."

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Connor Devlin

The goalkeeper, who is now rediscovering his best form back in Northern Ireland's Premiership under Tiernan Lynch at Larne FC, remembers preparing for a game in Dublin against Arsenal when Solskjaer came up with a test for his young players, which they all failed.

"I remember one morning at breakfast he said, 'put your slacks on, we're going golfing', so we all put our club trousers on and came down in our polos as if we were going out to play golf and he came in and read us the riot act because we were playing Arsenal the next day and he let us know what it meant to play for Manchester United against Arsenal.

Connor Devlin

"He said to us, 'You think you're here on a jolly-up? You're not. This is the biggest club in the world and you're playing against another one of the biggest clubs in the world, you need to prepare right for every game - it doesn't matter if they're friendlies or not'.

"Looking back on that, you realise that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Warren Joyce were two strong people, two strong managers who could tell you when you were doing something wrong."

Now 29, Devlin played through all the Northern Ireland age-group teams and even won a couple of call-ups to the full International squad, but he started his development in Manchester alongside the likes of West Brom's Sam Johnstone and Ben Foster (now at Watford) but it was Van der Sar who made the biggest impression on him as a keeper - even if he's only appreciating that at this stage of his career.

Image: Devlin was at Man Utd at the same time as Watford's Ben Foster

"Edwin van ser Sar was just a joy to watch," he says. "Just the way he conducted himself on and off the pitch was something that only now I think back and realise how good he was.

"I think at the time I didn't really take heed as much as I should have, but now I'm a wee bit older, I'm definitely using things I learned from him.

Devlin says Edwin van der Sar has been a huge influence on his career
Image: Devlin says Edwin van der Sar has been a huge influence on his career

"Looking back at the time I was there and the diaries I kept and the training sessions we did and the things I was picking up then, I'm finally using them now 10 years later and they've stood me in good stead."

Just as Manchester United are well-placed in the Premier League title race, Devlin is experiencing something similar in Northern Ireland.

He has been an ever-present in a Larne side that has lost just once in the Premiership all season and is second in the table, two points behind Linfield with a game in hand on the champions.

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Devlin also had a hand in the club's first major trophy success for 33 years, his two penalty saves in a shoot-out win over Glentoran helped Larne win the County Antrim Shield and Devlin is adamant the men from Inver Park are not afraid of going toe to toe with Northern Ireland's biggest teams.

"That's a really good thing this season, the big teams have come to Inver and we've gone to their places and we've held our own," he said.

"It's sometimes difficult, the way we play, to go away to pitches that maybe aren't great in this league, but to have that belief and confidence in ourselves in the way we play, that we can still get on the ball and pass round teams and through teams, it's been a really good sign so far."

Watch Crusaders vs Larne in the Northern Irish Premiership live on Sky Sports Football from 12.20pm on Saturday.

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