Former Dumbarton defender Nicky Devlin believes his early first-team experiences with the Sons have helped him become the footballer he is today as he prepares for Sunday’s Betfred Cup Final with Livingston.

The right-back made his first appearance for the Sons as a 17-year-old and has gone on to have a successful career with the likes of Ayr United and Walsall.

He is now part of the revival at the Tony Macaroni Arena under David Martindale which has seen them reach Sunday’s final against St Johnstone.

The 27-year-old came through the ranks at Dumbarton at Under-17 level before being handed his first-team debut by Jim Chapman in a 4-0 defeat away to Stenhousemuir in 2010 and made 24 appearances that season.

Chapman went on resign following that Ochilview defeat – and Devlin admits that despite it being his professional debut, it’s a game he wants to wipe from his mind.

Speaking exclusively to the Reporter, he said: “When I first went to Dumbarton I was with the under-17s.

“I played sometimes with the under-19s, but I didn’t have a full year there – if I wasn’t playing on the Saturday for the first-team I would play with them, but that was only really at the start of the 2010 season.

"When I did come in and make my [first team] debut, I played every game until the end of the season, so I missed the whole 19s stage.

“I know a lot of boys come up through academies, and that’s the way it’s meant to happen - you’re meant to come through the youth team and make your way into the first team - but for me it was more straight into first-team level, which was brilliant for me.

“I’ve played a few games in my career now and a lot of that is down to the experience I got early on.

“I think within about two minutes of my debut the ball had bobbled off me and went in. It was probably an own goal, but the boy had run away celebrating, so I was happy for him to take it!

“It wasn’t a great result, and a couple of days later the manager then left. It was strange - making your debut should be one of the best days of your career, because it’s something you’ve wanted to do for so long, but we didn’t really know what was going to happen.”

Alan Adamson then took the reins at Dumbarton, with Devlin becoming a vital part of the team, and the defender now believes that the constant first-team action was crucial to his early development.

“I think if Jim had stayed I maybe would have been in and out the team a wee bit more as a younger player," he said, "but with Alan, I think he had a bit of faith in me - and the fact we were in a bit of a poor position meant we had to go full strength every time.

“I played the full second half of the season, and it was good experience for me to play that many games as a younger player.”

After more than holding his own in the Second Division as a teenager, Premiership side Motherwell came calling and Devlin signed a two-year deal with the Fir Park outfit.

However, he failed to make an appearance for the first-team and returned to The Rock on loan in 2012.

That season, Dumbarton had just been promoted to the First Division, but were facing an uphill battle to avoid going straight back down to the third tier.

However, Devlin and his team-mates, under manager Ian Murray and his assistant Jack Ross, went on a sensational run in the second half of the season to escape the relegation trapdoor.

But the move to Motherwell which ended up in that loan spell back at the Rock nearly didn't happen at all.

Devlin continued: “I went down to Preston for a week’s trial when I was still at Dumbarton, and I had agreed to sign for them.

“I was down from Monday to Friday, and when I came back I said I would go back a week later to sign.

"But in that week their manager Darren Ferguson got sacked and everything was put on hold.

“Motherwell then came up and I went in and spoke to them and it seemed like a good place to go and try and progress.

“I really enjoyed my time there. I would say I was a wee bit unfortunate; I was there for a few months and then I did my knee in, and that was me done for a year.

"I was full-time, but I didn’t feel I was improving or anything like that because I wasn’t playing.

“I would never say anything bad against Motherwell, but it took me a lot longer to get back to where I was before the injury than I’d have hoped.

“They did everything for me -  they helped me through my rehab, and gave me opportunities to go out on loan and play. but I don’t think personally I was back to the standards I was at before.

“When I came back to Dumbarton, it was almost similar to when I first started playing.

"We weren’t in a great position, but we were in the league above, so up against better players and full-time players.

"It was great for me to come back, because I’d never played at level before.

“I was still quite young, only 18, so for me to go in and get games at that age was good for me.

“Ian was really good and got great results almost straight away – we beat Morton 3-0 and then Partick Thistle, who were top, and all the top teams.

“I think we beat everybody. We weren’t in a great position, but he got results right away and I think the boys really liked working with him and with Jack Ross as well - they were a really good partnership.”

Dumbarton scrapped their youth system in 2017, citing cuts in Scottish FA funding as their primary concern, and Devlin believes it’s a shame to see youngsters no longer coming through the ranks.

The Livi man admits he still wants the club do well, and checks their scores on a Saturday afternoon, as well as following some of his former team-mates' careers.

“A lot of clubs maybe have to make a financial decision not to run with their academies if they’re not producing as much," he continued.

“It’s sad to see, but if it’s not producing what the club needs, then clubs are looking to see if they can use that money elsewhere.

"It is a bit unfortunate, but it’s just the way a lot of clubs are going.

“I still look out for the results - you naturally do that as a footballer and you want your ex-teams to do well.

“Even some of the boys you played with at the club, you look out for them, like Martin McNiff, who is doing well at Clyde.

"You find yourself looking at other random teams that you’ve never played for but because your former team-mates are there you end up looking to see how they’re getting on.”

After making his 50th appearance for Livingston last week, no one has played more for the Lions than Nicky this season and he is relishing running out at Hampden in a national cup final this weekend.

He said: “I’m looking forward to it. It’s two teams who are probably looking at it and thinking they have an unbelievable opportunity to get their hands on a bit of silverware.

“It’s very rare you get to a final without having to beat a Celtic, Rangers or Aberdeen or the likes, so both teams will see it as a great opportunity which puts a bit more pressure on it.

“It’s a good of an opportunity as either team get so I’m looking forward to it as long as we win!”