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Booze shame before game put Northern Ireland player on road to priesthood

By Cate McCurry

Former Northern Ireland footballer turned priest Philip Mulryne has revealed that the turning point in his life came after he was caught on a drinking session before an international at Windsor Park.

Mulryne was famously sent home by manager Lawrie Sanchez when he and fellow squad member Jeff Whitley went out prior to a World Cup qualifier in 2005.

The Belfast man described how the incident was the catalyst for his journey into the priesthood, and made him realise he was searching "for something deeper" in his life

"At the time I was a bit lost, I was searching for a purpose and started to think about what happens when my career actually finishes," the 39-year-old told Radio 5 Live.

"Around the time of the Northern Ireland incident I was having an unhappy time playing at Cardiff and I was living by myself.

"There's no doubt I turned to drink at that moment and that's what happened with the Northern Ireland incident... that was a pivotal moment to make me actually go deeper and turn my life around.

"It's something like that, which is very embarrassing to myself and my family, that was a catalyst in my journey to bringing (me) to where I am.

"In some ways I am not ashamed of it because I was glad I learned something from it."

He described how he felt an "emptiness" as a professional footballer and that it was to his sister, a devout Catholic, who he turned to for help. He added: "I would have been the guy who you phoned if you wanted to go on a night out, and I enjoyed the life off the pitch a bit too much, and that was fine for a while, and yet at some stage I stepped back and thought this is not leading me anywhere healthy or anywhere fulfilling.

"I thought this way of life was supposed to bring me happiness, riches and having nice things like a nice house, nice car, a relative amount of fame, yet inside there was a real emptiness and a void there that I didn't know how to address and that's when I was very fortunate for having a family member who was a devout Catholic.

"I turned to (my sister) when I started to feel there was something lacking in my life."

Speaking about the difficulties of celibacy in priesthood, he said: "I experienced it very differently coming from my background. I experienced it as a gift and something that I freely embraced.

"I see the great value of celibacy and the free aspect of it. Some people will say to me that I have great life experience."

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