Footballers' Lives with Terry Fitzpatrick: 'I've lost two brothers and it's been really hard for my mum and dad. No one should have to bury a son but my parents have had to bury two'
Tragic losses, support of his family, why League Cup joy won’t be surpassed, and whether it’s time to retire
Q. How did your football career start?
A. As a kid I just played with my local team Lisnahull before joining Dungannon Swifts Youth. There was one loan move to Armagh City but for the rest of my career it was the Swifts. Dungannon is in my blood now. My oldest brother Bill took me out for kickabouts. Bill later died in an accident in work when I was 16. Football was always in the family and my mother told me I always loved the football. In my younger days I played for a team called Ardmore Rangers and the Swifts at the same time. Yes, I had a professional dream, but nothing like that happened. I've still had a great career and some good times in the game and with my family.
Q. Were your mum and dad always supportive throughout your career?
A. Yes, Bill and Rosemary drove me everywhere and there would be a big Gaelic tradition in Lisnahull but when I decided to play for the Swifts they let me choose my own path. I was young but I appreciated them for keeping my feet on the ground and letting me do what I wanted. I played a bit of Gaelic until I was 21 but it is hard to be dedicated to both. I enjoyed a few beers at the weekend and it was hard to stay committed. Outside of family, I received great support from the likes of Dixie Robinson, Joe McAree and Terry McCrory.
Q. Do you have any regrets in your career?
A. I could have put in more work to make more appearances for the Swifts. If I had sacrificed more of the party life in my younger days I could have played more because I had the ability. Some players had more natural ability so I needed to work hard. Other guys my age got more appearances but as time went on I knuckled down more and tried to stay fit and active. I'm 36 now and just hanging in there!
Q. Was the League Cup win this season your best moment?
A. Without a doubt. Nothing will ever surpass that. On the day I thought we were superb but after watching it back 15 times from start to finish I felt there was more in us. We made silly mistakes when no pressure was on. Maybe I'm being over-critical but we fully deserved to win it.
Q. Your captain Ryan Harpur called on you to help lift the trophy, was that a pleasant surprise?
A. I wasn't expecting it and I'll never forget that gesture. It never came into my head that he would do that. It was his first senior trophy as captain and allowing me to share that special moment with him shows you what type of lad he is. When he asked me on the pitch I told him to clear off in colourful language but I couldn't turn him down as we walked up the stairs. I felt we were comfortable before the final whistle but it was great for the club. Dungannon don't have the biggest support but they were brilliant on the day. My father, wife Rosanne and two kids were there as well as a few friends.
Q. Are you still recovering from the celebrations?
A. I would say myself and the manager did the most partying, it probably rolled into the fourth day. People I had never met before in Dungannon were coming up to me and shaking my hand. For a small town it was a big achievement and football does bring people closer together. I won a First Division and a few Mid-Ulster Cups but this was incredible. We got to the semi-finals of the Irish Cup last season and lost to Linfield and I thought that's it, I'm not going to win a major trophy. Within our changing room there is a belief that we can beat anyone. The Swifts did reach an Irish Cup final against Linfield in 2007 but lost on penalties. Looking back, what an opportunity it was but I had a lot of football left in me and I never really took it all in.
Q. Has your wife Rosanne been a constant support?
A. I'm training and playing a lot which means I'm away from my family. Without her understanding I wouldn't be sitting here today as a footballer. I know all good things come to an end and I'm 36 now. Rosanne is the rock of the house, it's some job looking after the three of us. She works full-time in the Civil Service and we got married in 2009 at Holy Cross, Belfast. Rosanne is from the Cavehill Road area. She's smart but we shouldn't give her too much credit as she married me!
Q. How did you and Rosanne meet?
A. I was going to Liverpool with a friend for a weekend and we met her at Belfast International Airport going to Liverpool. She got my friend's number and texted him to say, 'Tell your friend I like him'. We got communicating and things developed from there. I proposed to her 11 months into the relationship.
Q. Who is the best player you have played with and toughest opponent?
A. Our manager Rodney McAree had everything and he was superb along with Johnny Montgomery, a tremendous footballer. We have great young players like Kris Lowe, Dougie Wilson and Grant Hutchinson who you could put in the same bracket. Opponents-wise, Mickey Collins and Dean Fitzgerald were strong. Kevin Braniff could play balls around you without you getting close to him. Shane McCabe, Barry Johnston and Ryan Catney were real rascals too.
Q. Has the game changed much since the beginning of your career?
A. I think it has become much more professional and for that reason the standard has improved. Players have work and family commitments and yet they devote a lot of time to their clubs. They deserve more credit for that.
Q. You have lost two brothers in tragic circumstances. How are your emotions now?
A. Everyone goes through tough times. When Bill died in a work accident in 1998, I was 16. Bill was 25 and married with two children. He was very young and it was a hard time for my mother and father. It was brutally tough and I can remember Dixie Robinson and Joe McAree approaching me at the funeral to offer their support and there was the sense that the club, Dungannon Swifts, was still with me. At the age of 16 I hadn't a clue what was happening but Dixie and Joe had managed me in the youth teams and I still speak to them regularly. My other brother Shaun was murdered in 2008 and he was 32. It was a hate crime because my brother was gay and two foreign nationals murdered him. There is badness in a lot of people regardless of race or background, I don't hate foreigners because of this. You have the court cases after it and two men were convicted. My father went to the court and I wanted to support him. That time was tough and Rosanne was my fiancée at that time. It was hard for her too. No parent should have to ever bury a son but my mum and dad had to bury two. Coping is the wrong word because there are days which aren't nice and I know it hit my mum particularly hard but for them to still be the people they are is unbelievable. They are very strong-minded people. We have a big family and became even closer after the two tragedies. I have two sisters, Stacey and Gail, and three other brothers, Dominic, Damian and Rory.
Q. Does what you have been through change you as a person or alter your outlook on life?
A. When I was 16 I was immature and didn't grasp everything. My father would be more religious and maybe that faith has helped him. Rosanne put up with a lot because as well as the football she had to see me go through emotional times. I can't speak highly enough of her. I try to have a good, happy outlook on life because we are only here for a short time. I miss my two brothers and think about them every day but you have to carry on and do the best you can. I don't think my mum is the same person and that is understandable but I haven't met two stronger people than my parents. We had another tragedy when my old team-mate Gary Bownes took his own life in 2005. Going to funerals brings back memories and they are hard. Gary was a fantastic player but everyone is fighting battles.
Q. Tell us about your kids.
A. Scarlett is six and Bill is three. Scarlett is more into dancing than football now and we will wait and see if Bill is into it, I won't force him. They were the best days of my life when they were born.
Q. Where did you get your nickname 'Choka' from?
A. My brother Bill gave me that because I couldn't say Coca-Cola right - it was Choka-Chola when I was nine or 10. I've been called worse!
Q. How long will you play on for?
A. I need to decide whether it's time to let the young lads step up. My game time has suffered and I'm not blaming anyone but when you put in the graft and don't get playing it's time to chat with the hierarchy. I can't see myself at another club. I've been with the Swifts from Under-12 when Harry Fay was manager and apart from the one loan move I've never been close to leaving. I'm going to start my coaching badges and I'd like to stay involved because football has been a massive part of my life.
If you are affected by any of the issues in this article, contact the Samaritans on 084 5790 9090, or Lifeline 080 8808 8000.
Date of birth: March 23, 1982
Place of birth: Dungannon
Previous clubs: Lisnahull, Ardmore Rangers
Dungannon Swifts record: 385 appearances, 24 goals