The Man Utd player who found money and fame ’empty’ – and quit for a very different job

Mulryne has spoken openly about the choice to leave football behind (Picture: PA / Getty)

Growing up on the streets of Belfast, Philip Mulryne was an avid Manchester United fan.

As a teenager, Mulryne was playing football with his friends when he noticed some men standing at the side of the pitch. They were talent scouts.

After the game, they approached Mulryne and asked if he would be interested in taking a step up, snapping the dream of playing for his boyhood club into reality.

Mulryne jumped at the opportunity. He joined the youth team at Manchester United in 1994 and rose through the ranks.

At 19, he made it onto Manchester United first team, playing alongside iconic players of the game including Roy Keane and David Beckham.

Mulryne made his Manchester United debut at 19 (Picture: Neal Simpson Provider: Press Association)

Finding his opportunities limited at Old Trafford as Alex Ferguson’s side entered an era of domination, Mulryne made the move to Norwich in 1999 for £500,000, where he made 150 league appearances.

During his time at the Canaries, Mulryne lived the typical footballer high life. 

‘I love the club and I loved the players that we had there at the time. I have nothing but positive experiences from the club,’ he said.

His friend Peter Crouch, who was on loan at Norwich in 2004, said that the pair would go out for beers on Saturday nights and party at Mercy nightclub into the early hours.

Mulryne dated model and influencer Nicola Chapman.

He faced injuries throughout his football career (Picture: Fatih Saribas/REUTERS)

But it wasn’t always an easy ride.

He broke his leg in a match in the 1999-2000 season, and suffered a string of injuries in the years after.

The midfielder moved to Cardiff City in 2005, and later played for Leyton Orient and Kings Lynn.

Despite the setbacks, he had enjoyed a successful international career, making 27 appearances for Northern Ireland, scoring three times.

Mulryne still had his passion for football, but the six figure salaries and wild nights out left him feeling hollow.

He said that it was ‘hard to pin down a particular moment’ when he decided to pursue a more spiritual life, but it began to take hold during his last year at Norwich.

‘We have a wonderful life as a footballer and I was very privileged, but I found with all the surrounding stuff that eventually there was a kind of emptiness with it,’ Mulryne said.

‘I was quite shocked – why am I not happy when I have everything that young men want?’

Mulryne represented his country on 27 occasions (Picture: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

He was supposed to be living the dream, but Mulryne said he ‘grew quite dissatisfied with the lifestyle’, finding it to be ‘shallow’, and struggling to feel happy or fulfilled.

‘It started me on a journey towards exploring my faith again, the faith that I had as a young man.’

Mulryne decided to take a six month break from the game and return home to Belfast when he was 29.

At that point, he said he still intended to keep on playing, and was planning to retire from football at 35.

While visiting home, his sister persuaded him to join a prayer group and his brother-in-law encouraged him to volunteer at a homeless shelter for alcoholic men.

‘Just over the course of those months, going to the prayer group, working in the shelter… everything kind of changed, things were happening inside that I couldn’t really explain,’ he said.

Mulryne giving his mother Sally and father Tony a boutique of flowers during his inaugural mass (Picture: Liam McBurney/PA Wire)

He added that he found ‘this sense of contentment and peace’.

‘I started to read about the faith and really take it very personally for the first time,’ Mulryne said, admitting that he had never thought about being a priest growing up.

‘But in that year the practice of my faith just became so strong and all encompassing that I decided to leave football. I felt the Lord calling me to be a priest.’

Mulryne said that he is happier now that he is a priest (Picture: Liam McBurney/PA Wire)

Mulryne studied philosophy at Queen’s University Belfast and the Maryvale Institute. Then, in 2009, he enrolled at the Pontifical Irish College in Rome.

In 2016, he was made a deacon in the Dominican Order at St Saviour’s church in north Dublin – a Catholic religious order. In the following year, he was ordained as a priest and became a priest at St. Mary’s Priory Church in Cork.

He said there were ‘mixed views’ when he made the change and that a lot of his friends from his time in football couldn’t understand his decision.

‘The concept of going to mass every day, or even later on contemplating the vocation, celibacy and poverty and these sort of things, they can’t understand it,’ he said.

His ex-teammates struggled to understand the switch (Picture: Liam McBurney/PA Wire)

However, Mulryne still maintains friendships with those he used to share a changing room with.

‘I still go and visit them in the summer, and having conversations with them, they can see there’s a change in me for the good.’

Fellow footballer Paul McVeigh said: ‘To my amazement, and most likely to the rest of the footballing fraternity’s, Phil decided to train to become a Catholic priest.

‘I was still in contact with him and knew that he had turned his life around and was doing a lot of charitable work and helping the homeless on a weekly basis.

‘Still, it was a complete shock that he felt this was his calling.’

His sister Annette said : ‘He’s richer today than he was when he played football and had all the material things and that’s all it was, it wasn’t genuine,’ she said.

‘What I see in him is peace’.


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