Young Kearny soccer player is as radiant as her name

Niamh Devlin is eight years old. Her first name, pronounced NEEVE, is of Gaelic origin. It is translated into “radiance.”

And after meeting Niamh, there’s no question that her name is fitting, because she certainly is radiant.

Niamh scored two goals for her Kearny Recreation soccer team Saturday, but that’s not even the biggest part of this story.

“On the first one, someone gave me a pass and I kicked it in,” Niamh said. “The second one, I ran up the field and scored. It was great.”

Devlin was on the field at Red Bull Arena a few hours later, being escorted onto the pitch by Red Bulls defender Aurelien Collin, a few days after she actually signed a one-day contract with the club and worked out with the Red Bulls at their practice facility in Whippany.

But that’s not even the biggest part of this story.

No, this is the story of a brave little girl battling leukemia, in particular acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL), an adorable child who lives by one simple motto.

“Cancer can’t beat me,” Devlin says.

Devlin was one of several youngsters who took part in the Red Bulls’ “Tackle Kids Cancer” evening with the Children’s Cancer Institute at Hackensack University Medical Center.

Devlin, a third grader at Kearny’s Franklin School, actually signed a one-day contract with the Red Bulls to participate in practice and then walk out onto the field prior to the Red Bulls defeating the Montreal Impact, 1-0, to clinch a berth in the upcoming Major League Soccer playoffs.

While undergoing outpatient treatment at Hackensack University Medical Center, it was learned that Devlin and her 6-year-old brother Tiernan are big Red Bulls fans, so Niamh was asked to participate in the “Tackle Kids Cancer” program and actually filmed a commercial with the program’s spokesman, All-Star goalkeeper Luis Robles, who is Niamh’s favorite player.

“He’s a very nice man,” Devlin said of Robles, who fielded shots from Niamh and Tiernan at the recent practice. “I wasn’t going to do it without my brother. It made sense that we both had to go.”

Niamh also plays for the famed Kearny Thistle program, for the Thistle Thunder, but has had to take some time off ever since she received her diagnosis in October, 2015.

The saga began in April of 2015, when Niamh’s mother, Rosaleen, noticed an egg-shaped lump on her head, then another behind her ear. After her first blood test came back normal, Niamh continued her life, which made her parents (both Rosaleen and husband Peter were born in Ireland) extremely relieved.

But in September, Niamh started to complain about headaches. Niamh had a blood test and it was determined that she indeed had ALL.

“It was like a blaring radio was playing and I heard nothing,” Rosaleen Devlin said of the diagnosis. “I could hear nothing. I understood nothing. I knew it was serious.”

The Devlin family huddled together.

“I remember everybody was crying,” Niamh said. “Everyone was hugging. I felt a little sad, but I was never scared.”

And Niamh handled the grueling chemotherapy with ease.

“She was a champ from the beginning,” Rosaleen said. “She fought it like you wouldn’t believe. Even on her worse days, she was fine.”

“I thought it was going to be bad,” Niamh said. “I got sick one day and thought every single day was going to be like that. I didn’t like getting sick.”

As it stands right now, her cancer is under control. The word “remission” is not even in play.

“She’s going to be fine,” Rosaleen said. “I know it. There’s no other way around it. Right now, she’s in the maintenance stage. It’s being maintained.”

Every day, Niamh has to take a chemotherapy pill. Every month, she returns to Hackensack University Medical Center for further treatment. It will be that way through 2018.

“We know that cancer doesn’t discriminate,” Rosaleen said. “But we never said why us. We never questioned it.”

And when Niamh was introduced to Robles at Hackensack University Medical Center, the two hit it off and Niamh was soon to be a teammate.

“One of the specialists there wanted to introduce Niamh to the Red Bulls,” Rosaleen said. “The Red Bulls were doing their best to create awareness for kids’ cancer.”

When the Devlin kids went to Red Bulls’ training, they were pitted in a race against each other.

“It was fun,” Niamh said.

Who won?

“It was a tie,” Niamh said.

What did she learn from that day?

“The Red Bulls do a lot of training,” Niamh said. “A lot of training.”

So there was all this attention, with the training, with the pre-game celebration. Frankly, a chance of a lifetime, even if that lifetime has only been eight years _ but hopefully will last a lot longer.

“It was amazing,” Niamh Devlin said. “It was awesome, cool, all those words.”

“It was such a lovely experience for my daughter to be a part of,” Rosaleen Devlin said. “It was really nice.”

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Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer

Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.

It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.

In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.

In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.

He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.

During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.

Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.

Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”