'It goes against the grain to the lifestyle that I led before' – Father Mulryne discusses life after City and professional football
PUBLISHED: 09:45 16 May 2018 | UPDATED: 10:13 16 May 2018
From footballer, to priest, it’s a path along which few players have travelled.
That is the journey Father Philip Mulryne has been on since deciding he was done with football in 2009 – and which brings him back to Carrow Road this weekend.
The midfielder went on to score 20 goals in 178 games for the Canaries after being signed from Manchester United for £500,000 in March 1999.
After a handful of appearances under the watch of Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford it was soon clear that Mulryne has been studying David Beckham closely in training, bending home an excellent free-kick on his full debut in a 1-0 win at Grimsby.
City supporters might be able to see if the former Northern Ireland international can still ‘bend it like Beckham’ on Sunday when he turns out for a legends squad against Inter Milan (2pm) in aid of the Community Sports Foundation.
“If we’re talking about 11 v 11, I haven’t played in about 10 years!” Mulryne admitted. “I played five-a-side recently with Paul McVeigh in Belfast and with Dean Ashton as well.
“I’ve been coaching (at Newbridge Dominican College) and sometimes I’ll go for a run or something like that but certainly not match football fitness.”
Mulryne’s focus nowadays is the Roman Catholic church, having been ordained as a deacon in 2016 and as a priest in West Belfast last July.
Based in County Kildare, south of Dublin, the former Canaries creator now lives a very different life to his high-earning days as a professional footballer.
“My sister would say she thought I had a vocation to be a priest when I was a young boy,” the 40-year-old continued. “I don’t know where she got that from but she’s adamant!
“This way of life that I’m leading now is completely counter-cultural, it goes against the grain really to the lifestyle that I led before with regards to material things and having money and so forth.”
Mulryne admits his former Norwich team-mates were shocked to see him step away from football and become a priest but feels they now understand his choice.
“It was fascinating to see the reaction of my team-mates,” he said. “It was a big shock for a lot of them, but I still visit a lot of them in the summer when I get time off and they can see that there’s something different – I’m happy now.
“Over the years since I’ve left, the ones who I’ve kept in contact with would be Malky Mackay, Craig Fleming and Paul McVeigh, and with Craig Bellamy as well. When I arrived in Norwich in 1999 Craig was there as well so we became good friends at that time.”
After a bright start to his time in Norfolk, Mulryne’s progress was brought to a painful halt at the start of the 1999-00 season after a heavy tackle from Blackburn defender Christian Dailly broke his leg and ruled him out for seven months.
The classy passer was then a key part of Nigel Worthington’s team which reached the play-off final in 2002, seeing his penalty saved in the Millennium Stadium shoot-out loss to Birmingham.
After initially looking set to leave when his contract expired, Mulryne signed a new deal and scored eight goals the next season, before helping City to win the Division One title in 2004.
“We had the play-off season where obviously we didn’t go up so it was wonderful to give that back to the fans because they travelled with us the whole time and the support was unbelievable,” he recalled.
“We had a real close-knit team; socialised together, trained together and it was a really wonderful atmosphere to have.
“They’re wonderful memories even though it’s 10 years since I retired.”
Mulryne was on the fringes of the team as relegation from the Premiership could not be avoided in 2005 and wound down his career with spells at Cardiff, Leyton Orient, King’s Lynn and finally back home with Cliftonville.
After finding a happier path in life with the church, Mulryne is now looking forward to rolling back the years at Carrow Road on Sunday to help raise funds for CSF’s new hub, The Nest, near Norwich Airport.
“I’m really looking forward to that,” he continued. “I love the stadium and I just love the atmosphere and meeting all the people behind-the-scenes that I would have gotten to know over the years.
“It’s going to bring back a lot of emotion and a lot of memories.”
Former team-mates including Iwan Roberts and Paul McVeigh will be going up against the likes of Jurgen Klinsmann and Marco Materazzi.
“Just to see these guys close up will be amazing,” Mulryne concluded. “I was very fortunate to play for Northern Ireland a few times and to play against Italy and had those experiences playing against that calibre of players.
“It’ll be a really wonderful occasion to be up close to these guys and I’m sure they’re still very fit so hopefully we can hold our own!”
• Tickets are £9.93 for adults and £1.93 for U18s and are available at tickets.canaries.co.uk, by phone on 0844 826 1902 or from the ticket offices at Carrow Road, Castle Mall or Chapelfield
• For more about the Build The Nest campaign, see thenest.org.uk
• Read more about the players involved in our Build The Nest section