Former Northern Ireland midfielder Philip Mulryne was once on Manchester United’s books – but he is now a priest after quitting the sport.
The Northern Irishman, who earned 27 caps for his country in a career that included spells with Norwich and Cardiff City, was ordained as a deacon in the Catholic Church back in 2017.
Mulryne, who began his career at Old Trafford after progressing through the club’s academy, made just one Premier League appearance for the club before moving to Norwich in 1999 for £500,000.
After becoming a fan favourite at Carrow Road, the Northern Irishman made over 150 league appearances for the Norfolk outfit before leaving for Cardiff City in 2005.
His career would then start to go downhill, barely featuring for the Welsh side before spells at Leyton Orient and King’s Lynn Town – retiring in 2008.
While many ex-players go into coaching or television punditry, Mulryne opted to ditch his life of glamour for something of a more spiritual existence.
At 31, he began formation for the Catholic priesthood after he started to fall out of love with football. Mulryne, who earned over £500,000-a season in his best years, didn’t enjoy where his career was going – and thus, he made a significant change.
Speaking on his transition into priesthood, Mulryne previously told Norwich’s official website: ‘It’s hard to pin down a particular moment. I would say it started in my last year at Norwich, not explicitly and I wasn’t thinking about it at that time but I started to get dissatisfied with the whole lifestyle.
‘We have a wonderful life as a footballer and I was very privileged, but I found with all the surrounding stuff that eventually there was a kind of emptiness with it. I was quite shocked – why am I not happy when I have everything that young men want?
‘It started me on a journey towards exploring my faith again, the faith that I had as a young man. I took a decision to come home for a year and it was really during that year that everything turned upside down.
‘I volunteered at a homeless shelter for a while. I started going back to mass and I started praying again on a regular basis. I just found a real sense of fulfilment with it. Football was huge highs and lows and here was something that was giving me a steady sense of contentment.’
Mulryne, 46, goes by the title Reverend Father Philip Mulryne after he was ordained a priest for the Dominican Order in 2017 and now currently oversees a congregation at St. Mary’s Priory Church in Cork.
After quitting the game over a decade ago, Mulryne revealed he has no regrets about his decision.
He added: ‘My vocation to priesthood and religious life came later in the course of that year – I felt this strong desire for this way of life and I stayed with it for a few months and then got the courage up to explore it and I took the decision and it’s now eight years later.’
Mulryne has enjoyed his fair share of worship from fans during his career, but it hasn’t always run smoothly.
He was once sent home in disgrace from a Northern Ireland squad in 2005 after breaking a curfew to go drinking with team-mate Jeff Whitely.
Peter Crouch, who played alongside Mulryne at Norwich reckons he may have played a bit of a role in pushing the former footballer to become a priest.
In his book, How to Be an Ex-Footballer, the former Liverpool striker said: ‘Maybe — and this is a possibility I don’t like to entertain — it was hanging out with me in those giddy months that convinced him he needed a fresh direction in his life.’
Mulryne once dated glamorous model Nicola Chapman – who appeared on Real Footballer’s Wives 2005. She is now a beauty and fashion vlogger on social media, having racked up over two million subscribers on her YouTube channel.
She opened up to MailOnline in 2017 on her relationship with her family and struggles suffering with multiple sclerosis.
Mulryne first enrolled at the Pontifical Irish College in Rome in 2009. He had previously spent two years studying philosophy in Italy, before undertaking a four-year theology degree in Belfast.
Paul McVeigh, who played alongside Mulryne at Norwich, said he had visited his friend in the Italian capital and was stunned when he found out.
‘Unfortunately, Phil struggled with injuries towards the end of his career and decided to stop playing and move back to Belfast and try and decide what he’d do with the rest of his days,’ McVeigh told the Catholic Herald.
‘To my amazement, and most likely to the rest of the footballing fraternity’s, Phil decided to train to become a Catholic priest.
‘I was still in contact with him and knew that he had turned his life around and was doing a lot of charitable work and helping the homeless on a weekly basis.
‘Still, it was a complete shock that he felt this was his calling.’
In 2016, the ex-midfielder was declared insolvent at Belfast’s High Court. It is believed he invested heavily in a fund that exploited a legal loophole giving tax benefits to those putting their money into the film industry.
The bankruptcy was described as a ‘self adjudication’ – which implies he declared himself bankrupt.
Many other footballers signed up to such schemes – which gave them huge reductions in tax bills – in what became a culture within the game.
The scheme allows individuals to write off any investments in the British film industry against tax.
But they have become targets for a crackdown by HMRC on what it views as being tax avoidance.
Prior to being declared bankrupt, Mulryne was a member of Tudor Films LLP and Zeus Films LLP for the past 13 years.
According to company accounts, Tudor Films posted losses of more than £900,000, while Zeus lost over £800,000.