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Alfie Wylie: I was at some great clubs but Linfield were a step up in class

 

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Irish FA Elite Head of Performance Alfie Wylie
PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON

Irish FA Elite Head of Performance Alfie Wylie PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON

Alfie Wylie (right) celebrates another Irish Cup win with then Linfield boss David Jeffrey

Alfie Wylie (right) celebrates another Irish Cup win with then Linfield boss David Jeffrey

�William Cherry/Presseye

Irish FA Elite Head of Performance Alfie Wylie PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON

A fish supper was a novel way to celebrate an inaugural Setanta Cup success.

David Jeffrey's Linfield had just defied all the odds in 2005, defeating Shelbourne on a night to remember at Tolka Park.

Goals from Glenn Ferguson and Peter Thompson helped the Blues write another chapter in the illustrious history of the club.

As the champagne was uncorked and the party got into full swing at their Malahide Hotel, coach Alfie Wylie opted to take time out to reflect on what had been a momentous occasion.

In his first season at the club, Alfie had suffered the most cruel of knockbacks only a few weeks earlier when Glentoran's Chris Morgan bagged a late winner in a Big Two showdown at The Oval which ultimately deprived the south Belfast team of the chance of retaining the League title.

It was a tough one to take for the Linfield masses, but all was forgotten on that balmy evening in Dublin.

"I remember a few of us 'quiet guys' left the hotel to take a stroll later that night," recalls Alfie.

"We visited a few little local pubs and, on the way back, called into a chippie. I never thought I'd be eating a fish supper out of the paper with one of Belfast's most successful businessmen, jeweller Peter Lunn.

"Peter Weir, another guy steeped in business, was also with us. It was hysterical. I could hardly eat for laughing, and I recall asking Peter if he had ever eaten chips out of the paper before.

"When we arrived back at the hotel, the boys were going nuts. They had an end-of-season blow out."

Alfie, the IFA's first Head of Women's Elite Performance, doesn't mind admitting he had to pinch himself on occasions during his days at the international stadium, having progressed from the more mundane surroundings of Loughgall.

"Suddenly, I found myself teaming up with David (Jeffrey) and Bryan McLoughlin, coaching boys like Glenn Ferguson, Noel Bailie, Winkie Murphy and Pat McShane," he goes on.

"That Setanta Cup win was an eye-opener. The dressing rooms at Tolka Park were so close together and the walls were paper thin. We were leading 2-0 and listening to the Shelbourne boys roaring and tearing each other apart.

"We had them rattled and we used that as motivation for the second half. David had a quiet word with our boys and they went out and did a totally professional job in the second half to see out the match.

"They had the party of all parties that night and most of the morning."

It wasn't all backslaps and high-fives for Alfie, whose playing career was cut short because of an ankle deficiency developed from birth.

He adds: "I had to have an operation when I was six years of age and I had to wear a caliper on my legs in bed until I was 12.

"When I began playing football, the pain was excruciating. When I got older, doctors told me if I continued playing, I would be using walking sticks by the time I was 40, so I had a decision to make.

"It prompted me to take up coaching at an early age. I completed my IFA Grade One and Two certificates. The late Lawrence Walker was one of the coaches, along with Nigel Best, Jake Gallagher and Bob Nesbitt.

"I was still only 28 when Loughgall handed me my chance. They played in the Mid Ulster League, but we went from there right to the B Division. The club was run by good people - Noel McClure, Raymond Nesbitt, Noel Willis and Robin McFadden.

"We went through the Intermediate League before we made it into the B Division. In our first season, we finished 14th - it was a 16-team league. In our second year, we hit eighth place. The following season, we were runners-up to Dundela.

"But we were crowned champions the following year and we won the title four years on the bounce. It had never been done before and it has never been done since.

"I managed to bring back local boy Alan Wilson from Glenavon, which was a big coup. Gary Henderson and Stevie Barnes scored goals for fun. Dean McCullough was our captain. He was partnered by Randal Morwood and Michael Lamont at the back. We had Jeff Calvin, Raymond Hill and Dessie Edgar, with Brian Hanley in goals.

"We held Linfield to a scoreless draw at Windsor Park in the Irish Cup, which was a fantastic result. And, in the replay at our place, Gary Peebles scored the winner a few minutes from the end of extra-time to take them through.

"I was at Loughgall for 13 years and enjoyed every minute of it."

Having helped out Jim Gardiner, who was Glenavon youth team coach, Alfie was appointed IFA Excellence Coach. He was then offered the manager's post at Newry Town.

"It was tough because the budget was tight," he recalls.

"Willie McKeown came on board as chief scout. He managed to get Gary McPhee on a loan basis from Coventry City as he was friends with manager Gordon Strachan.

"We also had the likes of Robbie Casey, Davy O'Hare, Dean Fitzgerald, Raymond Byrne and Mark Rutherford. We didn't have a lot of money, but the Board let me get on with it."

However, it ended in acrimony as Aflie left following a disagreement with a club director.

He was over with David Moyes at Everton as part of his Pro Licence arrangement when Coleraine boss Marty Quinn made contact.

"He offered me a coaching post, but travelling from Portadown was a problem," says Alfie. "Marty was very persuasive, so I told him I'd take a few sessions until he got someone.

"But once I got up there, I was bitten. It was a fantastic bunch of boys - O'Hare, Clanachan, McAuley, Gaston, Flynn, McAllister, Gorman, Beatty, Hamill, Curran, Armstrong, Johnston. However, it was a push getting to training for 7pm."

Alfie departed just before the 2003 Irish Cup Final win against Glentoran, but he was a guest of the club on that special day at Windsor Park, when Jody Tolan bagged the winning goal for the Bannsiders.

"Glenavon offered me the chance to manage the club," he continues.

"Instead of travelling 60 miles, it was easier shooting a couple of miles up the road. The club, however, was in a bit of turmoil in terms of finances.

"In fact, I had to fork out of my own pocket at times to get training gear with the help of Philip Mitchell at Umbro."

But his nightmare turned into a dream when David Jeffrey came knocking.

"I was previously approached, but until it came from the manager, I wasn't interested," he adds.

"To be fair, David respected that. When he made the call, I'd no hesitation.

"We won the County Antrim Shield in my first season, but I was surprised because there was very little celebration. Maybe the boys had one or two beers, but that was it. They were focused for training on Thursday night - their professionalism shone through.

"After that, it was a stream of doubles and trebles. In my 14 years at Linfield, I think there were only two seasons we went without a trophy. The players were all winners.

"I was at some great clubs, but Linfield were a step up in class. It was a pleasure to work with boys like Stevie Douglas, Jamie Mulgrew, Aidan O'Kane, Paul McAreavey and Michael Gault, just to name a few.

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Alfie Wylie (right) celebrates another Irish Cup win with then Linfield boss David Jeffrey

Alfie Wylie (right) celebrates another Irish Cup win with then Linfield boss David Jeffrey

�William Cherry/Presseye

Alfie Wylie (right) celebrates another Irish Cup win with then Linfield boss David Jeffrey

 

"The staff all worked for each other. Everyone had the one drive - to make the club even more successful. I remember my first Irish Cup Final and being measured for a new suit. I was like a big child, I never dreamt it would happen to me.

"David was a brilliant man-manager and he worked so well with Bryan - they complemented each other. But the same could be said for everyone, from the Board, management and players to the supporters.

"I was proud of what I achieved at Linfield. I've loads of trophies, medals and mementos. The memories will be with me forever."

When Jeffrey departed, Alfie worked under Warren Feeney and then David Healy but, when his current post as IFA's Elite Head of Performance kicked in, he couldn't juggle both roles.

"David (Healy) asked me about my plans, but my job at the IFA had to take preference," he concludes. "I was women's international team boss for 15 years and (men's) Under-21 coach.

"When I was promoted to Head of Elite Performance, it meant that I was out of the country a lot, so I had to give it my full focus."

Alfie Wylie's key points

÷ Born and brought up in Portadown, Alfie began in Boys Brigade football before joining Killycomaine Boys Youth Club.

÷ He has coached or managed at every level of international football for males and females for Northern Ireland, except for the men's senior side.

÷ As well as his role of IFA Head of Elite Performance, Alfie also works for UEFA as a technical observer throughout Europe.

 

Belfast Telegraph