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Coach Alfie Wylie on glittering Linfield stay, reign as NI ladies' boss and laying foundations for future

'The progress the IFA have made in women's football is fantastic. I'm so proud of just how far we have come'

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Wealth of experience: Alfie Wylie has been heavily involved in both men and women’s football

Wealth of experience: Alfie Wylie has been heavily involved in both men and women’s football

Happy days: Alfie Wylie celebrates SuperCup NI success with NI’s U17 ladies in 2017

Happy days: Alfie Wylie celebrates SuperCup NI success with NI’s U17 ladies in 2017

Alfie Wylie with partner Alison and son Zach (6)

Alfie Wylie with partner Alison and son Zach (6)

Ton up: Julie Nelson with her 100th NI cap

Ton up: Julie Nelson with her 100th NI cap

Wealth of experience: Alfie Wylie has been heavily involved in both men and women’s football

Alfie Wylie could talk for Northern Ireland. Get him going about football and he provides an endless stream of knowledge, insight and memories.

For the 61-year-old the beautiful game has been his life since the days when he played for Killycomaine Boys Youth Club in Portadown. Later he would feature in midfield for his home town reserve team and the second string at Glenavon but it is as a coach for which he is well known and respected in Northern Ireland and where he has made an indelible mark.

In the men's game, as a manager Wylie brought Loughgall unprecedented success, was in charge at Glenavon and Newry and has enjoyed successful coaching roles with Coleraine and Linfield.

He has also been the Northern Ireland women's team boss since 2004, helping put the game here on the map.

"I remember taking the girls to play in the Algarve Cup in 2004. We went back in 2005 and won our first match against Portugal which was a big moment for all of us. Ashley Hutton and Stacey Hall scored the goals. Aine McGovern from Fermanagh, who is Michael McGovern's sister, was playing as well," recalls Alfie, whose role with the Irish FA in developing women's football is full-time.

"I didn't know then that I would still be manager 14 years later. The progress the IFA have made in women's football is fantastic. I'm proud of how far we have come and proud to be the manager of the country. It's an amazing feeling when we step out to play.

"I'm also proud to be planting trees with the IFA now which other people will see grow. The pathway we are producing for Northern Ireland female players to go forward and make a career in the game for themselves is great."

Living in Ballymoney with his partner Alison Nicholl, who is the Northern Ireland Under-17s female coach and soon to be the first woman from here to earn her Pro Licence in coaching, and their six-year-old son Zach, any spare time that Alfie has is spent with them.

He also has three grown-up children Audrey, Craig and Sophie and two grandchildren Alex and Ella.

"All my children have been very supportive to me throughout my career. The older ones used to come to the games and now to have Zach in our lives is just fantastic," says Wylie, who began coaching 35 years ago.

Loughgall were in the Mid-Ulster Intermediate League when Wylie took charge in 1986. By the time he had left in 1999 the village side had won a multitude of trophies and four B Division titles in a row.

The wily Wylie used every trick in the book to bring quality players to Lakeview Park such as scanning the teams in the old Ireland's Saturday Night newspaper to see which influential stars had been left out before making his move. His first B Division title, courtesy of a final match victory over RUC, as they were called then, remains one of his favourite moments.

Wylie largely relished his spell as boss of Newry from 2000 to 2002. Next up was a coaching job under Marty Quinn at Coleraine during which time the Bannsiders won the Irish Cup in 2003.

"That was a brilliant team and working with Marty Quinn was a great experience," says Wylie, whose recollect of players, games and results from the past is staggering.

"Marty did the team talks and let me get on with the coaching. I loved him and the players."

After being in charge of Glenavon for a short, testing time, he took up a coaching role with David Jeffrey's Linfield in 2004. He was there until the summer with current boss David Healy deciding he wanted to re-shape his backroom staff.

As a sign of appreciation for his efforts, Wylie received Linfield Life Membership.

"Linfield was an unbelievable club to work at. David Jeffrey, his assistant Brian McLaughlin and myself just clicked. David was superb with the man management, Brian had the organisational skills and I got on with the coaching. We also had fabulous players like Glenn Ferguson, Noel Bailie and many more, a good board and it just clicked.

"We won everything, the clean sweep, trebles, doubles, you name it and I like to think I played a part. It was high pressure too though. I remember in my first year at Windsor a fan shouted to David, 'Hi Jeffrey, it's time to go and take those two muppets with you' referring to me and Brian.

"We were 2-0 up against Crusaders at the time! The demands of the club were and still are huge.

"When I left in the summer in fairness to David Healy I respected his decision because I had been away with the Northern Ireland women's teams a lot but it was still very sad for me to go because I enjoyed my time there so much."

Wylie has coached or managed at every level of international football for males and females for Northern Ireland except for the men's senior side, so are women or men harder to manage?

"The girls will want to know why you are doing something and the rationale behind it," he says. "They'll ask, 'Why are we passing from here or why are we running to there?'

"When I first got the job in women's football I already had my Pro Licence and had managed in the Irish League but they didn't care at the beginning what I was like as a coach.

"In my experience they weren't bothered how much I knew until they knew how much I cared so you had to take more of a personal interest in the girls. Once they could see I was genuine, they would say, 'By the way, he's not a bad coach is he?'

"In a men's changing room you can maybe say something and not worry about sensitivities as much.

"I have had some fabulous players in the women's game and I think I am the only person to have given one international, in Julie Nelson, all 100 of her caps.

"When you coach the Northern Ireland women's team you aren't going to win medals so it is the job satisfaction and knowing you have made your best efforts to improve players, especially exciting young players that are coming through now. For me, coaching both men and women has been rewarding."

What's next for Alfie?

"I have no intention to retire. I want to keep developing women's football and I love doing coach education as well, helping to develop and mentor young coaches," he says.

"I guess I just like helping people be the best they can be. I was honoured to be given Linfield Life Membership lately and sent a letter to the board to thank them.

"In it I wrote, 'Some day you will only be a memory for someone…make sure it is a good one'. I hope I have been a good memory for people over the years."

Belfast Telegraph