Belfast Telegraph

How Ebola virus cost Ulster football coach his job as Sierra Leone boss

By Declan Bogue

A young Northern Ireland football coach has revealed how he was forced to give up his dream job because of the Ebola crisis.

Johnny McKinstry was manager of Sierra Leone's national team - an incredible feat for a man who never managed at home - but restrictions caused by the disease was the last straw that ended his reign.

The 29-year-old lifetime Distillery supporter today tells the gripping story of his journey from Lisburn to the West African state ravaged by the killer virus.

The former Wallace High School pupil's dream was to be a football coach and manager - and he had the grit to turn a dream into reality.

"I think most people when they are 15 and 16 have an idea of what they would like to do. I don't know if most people are as forthright and as stubborn as to see it through," he said. "I used to get told by some of my friends when I was that age that I lived in my own little world.

"But I thought I would rather live in my little world than this one where people say that you have got to go and be a bank manager or an accountant."

After a meteoric rise in football coaching which saw him accept coaching roles in England, New York and Ghana, in 2013 Johnny was appointed coach of the Sierra Leone international team.

He was already managing the Craig Bellamy Football Academy - the only professional football academy in the country.

And in just over a year, Johnny had led the small African country to its highest ever Fifa world and African rankings.

Then came Ebola - and Sierra Leone was banned from hosting home games. It was to be the beginning of the end for McKinstry's African dream.

Though the team struggled valiantly, performance fell away as they had to play home games thousands of miles away - subjected to the cruellest jeers and taunts of opponents - and beleaguered by jetlag and the travel barriers made necessary to control the spread of Ebola.

Back at the Craig Bellamy Academy, McKinstry introduced tough lockdown protocols credited with saving young players from exposure to Ebola.

But relations between McKinstry and the Sierra Leone sports authorities were deteriorating rapidly as the authorities began to meddle in areas he regarded as his.

Today he is exploring opportunities in south-east Asia.

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