Swatragh man Terry McFlynn continues his soccer adventure in Australia
In the late 1990s, teenager Terry McFlynn left Swatragh to pursue a career in professional soccer. After the collapse of the Football League's deal with ITV Digital, QPR found themselves in administration and McFlynn was out in the cold. After wandering through the lower echelons of English football, a move to Australia saved his career. He spoke to Michael McMullan...
Consistent. Resilient. Loyal. At the end of an extensive conference call with Swatragh native and Sydney FC legend Terry McFlynn, these three words ring strong and true.
An 18-year professional football career, which saw a change in continent, had its fair share of hurdles. McFlynn weighed up the options, found a way around them and remembered those who gave him a helping hand.
From the early days of Glenview United, to Maghera Colts and endless hours of coaching from his uncle Mark, who he deems the biggest influence on his career, McFlynn has had quite the journey. Literally.
A trip to the Milk Cup broadened his horizons, before QPR snapped him up after scouting him on the Northern Ireland Schoolboys team.
The former Sydney captain won the A-League in its first season, 2005, and retired from the game in 2014. He was inducted in the club's Hall of Fame and named on their Team of the Decade.
Terry did have offers to extend his playing career elsewhere in the A-League , but his rapport with the club and it's fans was more important. When his career was floundering after being released by QPR, he wrote to all the Australian clubs. Only Sydney replied.
Closer to his heart, when a tragic accident took the lives of his aunt and uncle, back home in Ireland, the club's fans made a gesture he never forgot.
“We were playing Central Coast on a Friday night and I had a decision whether to come back for the funeral or stay in Sydney,” McFlynn remembers.
After consulting his family, he made the 'very tough' decision to stay in Australia.
“The fans had heard about it and they had a big banner when we came out to play the game that said 'Terry, at times of need, The Cove (the club's fan base) is with you.' They had this banner for me and my family.”
From that day he vowed never to play against Sydney. After hanging up the boots at the end of nine years with the club, after winning two titles, he joined the club's staff in a number of roles over a period of five years.
Now, he lives on the West Coast, where he is the Academy Manager at Perth Glory, the city his wife Emma hails from.
The move was a 'big decision' to leave the club after 15 years. After not having training kit in 2005 and picking from a squad of 20 players, they now have 'between 180 and 200' players at all ages, with 600 kids involved in the club's school system.
Emma's Dad was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease and, as a nurse, moved over to Perth to look after him. Terry commuted across the country until he changed clubs.
“Emma has followed me all over the world with football for the best part of 20 years, so it was my turn to support her in her decision and do what we need to do for the family,” Terry outlines.
Former Sydney skipper Tony Popovic was assistant manager when McFlynn captained them to the double in 2010. When Sydney beat Perth, on penalties in last season's Grand Final, the pair got talking after about the Academy position, which morphed into a deal. It was time to head east.
Before soccer took root and growing up in Swatragh, Gaelic football was the original sport of choice. In McFlynn's first two years at St Patrick's Maghera, he won a D'Alton Cup in a team that centred around Paul Murphy at full-forward.
The following season, he won a Corn na nÓg medal, playing alongside Paddy Bradley in the attack. Also on the side were Francis McEldowney and Fergal Doherty who went on to play for Derry.
“We were always very strong and the coaching was good as well. We had Mr Hughes, Mr McGuckin and Mr McNicholl,” McFlynn explains.
His soccer career began later than most. Glenview United, a team made up of pupils from St Patrick's College. Antóin Moran, Niall McErlean, Caolan McKee and Ryan 'Snowy' Bradley were among the squad, of which most transferred to the Maghera Colts.
“Myself, Niall McErlean and Darren McMath were selected on the South Derry side to go to the Milk Cup,” Terry remembers. He initially attracted interest from the Walsall and Wolves' scouts.
All the while, his uncle Mark was putting him through his paces ahead of trials for the Northern Ireland Schoolboys' team.
Manchester United came calling to take him across on trial, around about the same time fellow Swatragh man Anthony Tohill was on the trials with the English giants, who McFlynn supported as a boy.
He was fascinated by Roy Keane who was his hero and watching the United stars train lit a fire inside him. McFlynn knew what he wanted.
“Just seeing how hard these boys worked every day in training and what it actually takes to get to that level...that's what I was prepared to do,” he said.
His uncle Mark had a big say on Terry's future.
“Mark, all through my career was a massive influence on every decision that I ever made, career-wise...moving teams and moving countries, Mark was there to support me.”
In the middle of Swatragh, is the village's park where the two spent many hours kicking and perfecting Terry's game.
“During the winter months when there would be no floodlights, we'd play close to the wall using the street lights to get any light to keep playing. That was the foundation. Whenever I went to the Northern Ireland trials, my fitness levels were high.
“Mark was there to take me to Belfast two or three nights a week for trials and training, so he was the biggest influence on my career for sure.”
After making the Northern Ireland squad for the Victory Shield it was a 0-0 draw with the Republic of Ireland in Dublin that was enough for a watching QPR scout to offer him a trial which led to an offer of a five-year contract.
Terry's parents went over to Loftus Road to see their son sign the contract on his decision that would totally change his life.
“When you think of the size of Swatragh and it was smaller back then. To go from there, straight to West London was a bit daunting to say the least,” he states.
He was full of praise for how the club put him up in digs with a fellow Irish player in the house. It was a 'home away from home' and so much so that the fitness coaches warned Pauline, their Kerry-born landlady, of feeding them too well. Also written into the contract was a weekend home every six weeks, all helping him settle in.
When Ray Harford came in as first team boss, Vinnie Jones signed and shared his playing duties with managing the reserve team.
“He was a character,” laughs McFlynn who played under him. “It was the time when he was filming Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. He got limousines and took us to the premier of the movie up in Leicester Square.”
They were 'good times' but also a learning curve for the Swatragh man. The 'life lessons' were something that would stand him in good stead for his role on on the staff at Sydney. **Form working under different managers to the pressure of being judged every week. There was the work ethic from the cleaning boots and sweeping the stadium after games.
QPR endured relegation from the top flight. Worse followed when the multi-million TV deal between the Football League and ITV Digital collapsed, after the club had budgeted for having the money.
“There were a lot of clubs that got into financial difficulties and a lot of players got released,” he said, initially feeling there was a chance to break into the first team.
That door slammed shut when administrators told McFlynn his time at the club was over. He transferred to Woking, who were making a drive to get into the Football League. However, when the squad expanded to 35 players, he found himself out of the team.
Through a friend Gareth Graham, Terry went to play for Margate, another non-league team made up of London-based players who trained in the city but travelled out to the scenic coastal town to play their home games.
“I was there for just over two years and it was probably the two most enjoyable years of my football,” he said of the camaraderie and buzz.
While still in the Northern Ireland setup, Sammy McIlroy's number two, Jim Harvey, coaxed McFlynn to transfer to Morecambe who he also coached.
“They were owned by Peter McGuigan who owned Umbro. He sold to Nike, built the club up with a new stadium, set them up and they were full-time,” he said.
It was 2005 and after two years with Morecambe, McFlynn stood at the most significant crossroads of his career. There were some options for a move abroad but, at the time, he wanted to stay in England.
New Zealand international Chris Zoricich, who McFlynn met during his spell with Margate, floated the idea of move to A-League. Emma, being from Australia, was part of the reason and once again his uncle Mark was asked for advice on the next move.
“I wrote an email to all the clubs, asked for a trial and attached my CV. I went on the FIFA website and got a list of the listed agents,” McFlynn begins.
A reply from agent Richard Rudzki replied to say that only four foreigners were permitted and Terry's credentials were 'not strong enough' to secure a Visa. A plan to join a lower league Australian club sat in the background, with a plan to work his way up.
Out of the blue, I got an email from Sydney FC saying they would give me a one-week trial but I had to pay by own airfare and accommodation.
“Out of the blue, I got an email from Sydney FC saying they would give me a one-week trial but I had to pay by own airfare and accommodation,” he recalls.
By that point his mind was made up. He had checked into the dream of a new life down under.
From '12 or 13' trialists, it was cut to five after the first week including Australian internationals Dave Carney and Matthew Bingley. With only three positions, Terry began to do the maths in his head, but all three made the cut and former Ian Crook, Sydney's assistant manager at the time, offered him a one-year deal.
It was the start of a 15-year stint with the club. In their first year, and before the A-League had begun, they represented Australia at the Oceania version of the Champions League, which they won and booked a spot in the World Club Championship.
An early defeat saw them miss out on a glamour tie with Liverpool, but they finished fifth in the world after Dwight Yorke's goal helped them to a 2-0 win over African champions Al Ahly, who had previously went 55 games unbeaten.
Sydney were under the management of German World Cup winner Pierre Littbarski, someone who had a massive role to play in the club.
“When we were on trial, Pierre and Crookie (Ian Crook) would coach the team in the morning and come back in the afternoon and coach all the trialists.
“He (Pierre) was a fantastic manager. He played in three World Cups and he was on a different level to anything I had experienced in England,” McFlynn states, while also commending all his other coaches.
“We started training in February and the Grand Final was the following March. So we were training for 13 months straight.”
In the club's first season and McFlynn's first in his new adventure, Sydney won the double.
“Without being arrogant, we knew we were going to win because the mentality Pierre had in the group. Everything in training was about winning,” McFlynn adds.
No matter what it was, you had to be at 'your absolute best' and the German demanded that, to galvanise Sydney as a start-up club.
“Anything you were asked to do, he could to it. If you were working possession drills or passing drills, he would join in and he would still be the best player on the park and we had five or six Australian internationals and Dwight Yorke.”
At the end of the first season, there was a change in the club's CEO and Terry Butcher came in as manager. After the club were found in breach of the salary cap, they were deducted three points which saw them drop down from top spot to third place to miss out on the league title.
McFlynn won the double again in 2009/10, this time as captain under the management of Vitezslav Lavicka. They edged out Melbourne Victory in the league decider on Valentine's Day and in the play-off final after penalties, in front of over 48,000 fans in Melbourne's Etihad Stadium.
“We couldn't be separated all year. To win the league by a point and to win the Grand Final on penalties, it was a kick of a ball either way. We had some great battles with them (Melbourne) during that year.”
“We couldn't be separated all year. To win the league by a point and to win the Grand Final on penalties, it was a kick of a ball either way. We had some great battles with them during that year.”
As the seasons passed, there was always an inkling to move into coaching which transformed into a desire to 'build teams' and 'create environments'.
“I did a Masters of Coaching at Sydney University and my thesis was Developing a High Performance Environment through the organisational culture,” McFlynn continues.
“I got fascinated by culture, individuals and how the culture of an organisation can drive results.”
Following his retirement in 2014, McFlynn had a strong relationship with the Chairman, who was keen to keep him involved on the club.
When Graham Arnold, now the Australian national coach, came in as manager and after lunch with McFlynn, he brought him in as General Manager for Player Welfare.
“It was facilitating all the things that can cause issues for players and families that can influence performance,” McFlynn explains, who also oversaw all the logistics surrounding the team.
“When a new CEO joined the club (in 2016), with a commercial background, my role changed to General Manager of Football.
“Everything from the U12s in the Academy to the marquee players in the first team to our W-League (Woman's team)...anything to do with football came under me at that point.”
After joining the club in its first year as a player, McFlynn has stepped through every chapter of the club.
“To wake up every morning, to drive into the training ground and play football with 20 of your mates
for three or four hours every day in the sunshine and get paid for it was a privilege,” McFlynn summed up of a career that helped him see much of the world.
He continues to leave his stamp on the sporting lives of the youngsters coming into the Perth Glory's Academy. He is also studying for a psychology diploma, something that has always fascinated him.
For now, his goal involves his three daughters and their desire for a dancing career.
“Football has given me a great life,” he sums up. “My only goal for me is to support my kids in any way I possibly can to help them achieve a dream that I had as a kid, to be a footballer.
“Their dream is to be dancers on the stage and I know what it is like to have that burning ambition...to have my Mum, Dad and uncle Mark to support me all the way.”
Now it's his turn. From days of Glenview United and Maghera Colts and countless air-miles, Terry McFlynn is still the same. Loyal to those around him and looking for the next challenge on the horizon.
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