Interview by: Kendra Lee
Tell me about where you grew up.
I grew up in Cork City Ireland. It’s a big big sports city. Very passionate about all different sports, some of the Irish sports Gaelic football and hurling, and then you’ve got two Irish clubs that play in the League of Ireland Football system, Cork City and Cobh Ramblers. Cobh Ramblers is where I started. The city, it can seem quite big, but it’s not. Everyone seems to know everybody. And people who have come to visit me have said the city seems to have a little bit of an edge to it which is you know, a good thing and a bad thing. But good people. Very very helpful and very very open. A good city. I’m proud to call it home to be honest.
When did you start playing football when you were growing up?
I think I probably started at about 5 or 6 years of age. Obviously at that age you just play because you love it and you see everyone doing it. You watch your brothers or your friends play or maybe see it on TV. It’s not until I got a little bit older and into organized soccer that I started dreaming of becoming a professional to be honest.
How many people are in your family?
I’ve got seven brothers, so there’s eight of us. Big family but to be honest it’s quite normal in Ireland. Not so much nowadays but my parents, growing up everyone had big families, even my friends I grew up with, everyone’s got 4 and 5 kids you know.
Did your brothers play soccer as well?
All of us. Every one of us played. I’m the only one professionally, but they’ve all been in and around the game growing up. One of them, Derek the brother just older than me, he’s coaching at the professional club that I started out with Cobh, with the kids, the U-17s, U-18s. He’s progressing nicely with the coaching. He’s always been big into that. They’ve all played, and they’re all older than me and have families and at the weekend the kids are playing themselves.
Was there anyone who especially encouraged you to play?
People ask me that since I’ve come to North America but it’s a little bit different. Where we grew up it’s always in your face. You go out after school, everyone’s on the streets playing, everyone’s in the local green area playing. So it’s more like people see it as a way of interacting with other kids and when you’re growing up it’s what you play. Even talking to some friends now when I go back home, some of them didn’t like soccer but it was just a thing to do. But then also coming from the big family, I seen my older brothers do well with their junior clubs as they were growing up. All the way up to U-15, U-16s all my brothers done actually quite well. I’d play my games at the weekend and I’d go watch them and seeing them do well was encouragement. It was a little bit of competition at the house maybe! My parents were always very very encouraging. They could see how much I liked it and how much it meant to me. Me and Nicki [Paterson] talk about it ‘cause we’re similar upbringings and even when we’re done, we can’t see ourselves doing anything other than this. Even when we’re done playing I feel like we have to stay in the game now because it’s just been our life for so long. I’m one of them guys, I’ll go away for a couple of weeks in the off-season and I can’t live without it! I’m like “ok, when are we starting?” or I’m always trying to get my fix whether it’s watching TV. It’s just in my blood. This is definitely a dream come true.
At what point did you decide that you wanted to be more serious about it?
A big thing was one of my friends growing up, his name is Roy O’Donovan, he played in the Premier League with Sunderland. We were at the same age group, playing at the same teams growing up, and him mainly, but there was other players in and around the league that I was playing in, they were starting to get trials in England and I seen this happening and I was like, “maybe I’m not too far off”. I definitely didn’t have as easy a transition to professional as some of my friends but just seeing them do well, I think that just made me stick at it. I was at Cobh and another of the teams that play in the Irish national league, they brought me down and they gave me the confidence that I could go play in the League of Ireland football at a young age which was a great thing and one of my big achievements at the time. And then as soon as I got a taste of that, I wanted to progress again. And it’s a bit like that in our sport. You’re never quite happy where you’re at and you just want to keep progressing and it’s just natural.
And you played youth soccer in England for a while.
Yeah I went for a little bit to Carlisle. There was an Irish manager there at the time. I didn’t stay too long. I’ll be straight up, I was a little bit homesick at 16, 17 years of age. And Irish kids now are being pushed in that avenue a little bit too much. As I said that wasn’t the avenue I took and I’ve played hundreds of professional games now so I think everyone’s got their own way. I wouldn’t say from and Irish point that you have to go to England. I wouldn’t tell a kid not to do it but everyone’s different. So I didn’t last at Carlisle too long and then decided to come back home. And it was probably the best thing I done because by the age of 19 I was playing League of Ireland football. So that’s where I knew, if I’d stayed in England maybe, who knows, I might have been released at the end of the year anyway but maybe I was there for 3, 4 years and never played a game. Touching back to my friend Roy O’Donovan, he was in England for 5 years never played, came back played League of Ireland, done well and went back at a later age and done better. So to be honest I probably couldn’t handle it being away from my friends and family. Coming from such a big family we’re very close and maybe at 17 years of age it’s a bit much.
After that experience you went to Kilkenny and were captain right away at a young age.
When I came home I was playing with Cobh Ramblers so in the League of Ireland First Division. I had three good seasons at Cobh and kind of established myself as a starter in the team at a young age, which is always a little bit difficult for my position. Usually in my position it’s a lot older more experienced lads. They don’t take chances with kids so much. But we had a really good coach who believed in young players and gave people chances. And then my contract ended at Cobh and the Kilkenny manager Brendan Rae called me. They had got some new investment in the club and they were trying to do big things, building a very very good squad and at 21 years of age I think I was he asked me to be captain with a lot of older senior professionals in the dressing room which was quite surprising for me. To be honest, it’s helped me in my career. I was forced to take leadership qualities into my game at an early age. It was a bit nerve wracking and a bit intimidating at the time. Some of the older guys were very very good with me and helped me just because I wore the armband that season. It didn’t mean that I was giving out orders to everyone around; it was more that the club had confidence in me. The whole thing that I went there was for a long-term project. They were trying to build on something. They were trying to get the team up a division. But our manager actually, Brendan Rae, he left halfway through the season, I picked up an injury towards the end, and the club got into financial trouble. The investor who came in originally decided to pull out halfway through the season. It was a bit messy to be honest. I managed to get to the end of the season, and we solidified the club’s position mid table in the league. We’d done okay with everything going on behind the scenes. And then the club actually folded in the end, which was sad because it was an old League of Ireland club, which had been around for a long time. The club just couldn’t keep up. They weren’t getting fans in. There area of Ireland Kilkenny is in, the Irish sports have a big big grip on that city so it’s very very difficult for soccer to survive there. So I had two years left on my contract, which meant I was a free agent again. And that’s when I got an offer from New Zealand.
What was New Zealand like? I don’t know anything about soccer in there.
To be honest neither did I when I was going over!
Now looking back, Canada and the US, New Zealand and even Ireland, because Ireland competes against the Irish sports, I’d kind of been around countries where it felt like soccer’s always trying to compete against or trying to have it’s own place, whereas in other parts of the world, there’s no other sport. That’s it you know. New Zealand soccer, same thing. I would say it was growing when I went there. They were trying to compete against rugby. But really enjoyed it. The level of play there actually quite surprised me and I enjoyed every bit of it. I don’t regret going there one bit because I made a lot of good friends and I ended up playing under and ex-Irish international who is now a very very good friend of mine Terry Phelan who’s helped my career so much. To be honest he was the turning point for me in New Zealand because I was still unsure. The plan was to go and get away for a year, kind of try something new and maybe come back to Ireland or try to get back to England after the year. But it was there where I met Terry and he had a lot of contacts from his time in North America. So from there I ended up coming to North America.
What was the biggest thing you learned from your time in the USL Pro with the Charleston Battery?
The biggest thing for me is it doesn’t matter what level of professional you’re at, you’re getting paid to do what you love. And I think you ask a lot of professionals a lot of them go through their full career without winning anything. And I’m sure you’ll meet professionals who will say, “I couldn’t care about winning anything at USL Pro.” But you put so much time and effort the whole season to get rewarded at the end of it for something that you’ve started out in preseason to do. Let’s be honest when you start pre season the whole goal is to win the league, win the championship that season. So I was lucky enough to win two championships in Charleston and when that happened, I remember just sitting in the locker room exhausted at the end of the final and just being like “this has been a long season and it’s nice to finally, especially since I’d been playing professional for awhile, just to win something”! It’s just a little bit of achievement and you get a taste of it and you want more. And it’s what we’re about. We want to be successful you know. In that league and that division the club had a really good history and the coach had a great mentality on being successful and breading into his players. Charleston in that league at that time had a little bit of a cockiness about them. They’d been so successful in that league, and even in the US Open Cup, that you’re made well aware when you’re coming into the club, “We expect, minimum, quarter final semi final playoffs.” The club are a little bit disappointed if they don’t win it. So that brought a little bit of different expectations. After coming from as struggling team in New Zealand, actually up to that point any team I’d been on had been always fighting to keep it’s head above water, never towards the top end. So that kinda helped me a lot in my career. The standard has to be here. I would say just tasting success and winning a championship just gave me confidence to go and try something like India.
And you played with Nicki Paterson on that team right? So you already had a connection to the Fury.
I did. I played with Nicki for three years. We won the league together. That same year Richter was there with us. And the first season 2010, I won it with Tommy. So I won one with Tommy in 2010 and then I won one in 2012 with Richter and Nicki and Tony Donatelli, who was here last season. So there was a lot of connections. And me and Nicki were very very close in Charleston. We became very very good friends so it was quite funny how we’ve ended up here.
I read something online about a supporters group at Charelston called Falvey’s Army? What was that about?
[chuckle] Well, there’s a lot of expats in Charleston and they used to all meet up and go to some pubs right by the stadium and go to the games. And it kinda started out as a few guys and then they used to have every couple of weeks little get togethers and they asked me to do just little events, like come and raffle something off. And it started like that. I got more and more familiar with this group and it just kinda took off. It wasn’t big numbers or anything but it became their kind of thing. I’m a very very committed player that’s just the way I’ve been brought up and played. That’s more of the UK, Irish style, a little bit more rough around the edges maybe. And I think that maybe they associated with that style of play a little bit more and took to me. By the end there was 40, 50, 60 of them coming to games [laughs] getting wasted they were! I think in the end they just went to abuse me and nothing else! [laughs] It was a big part of their weekend to be honest. And I know them all now and we’re friends for life. I even went to visit some of them on my time off. We just kind of took it as a bit of a laugh. It wasn’t an out and out supporters group. More of lads getting together to come see me, and Nicki as well, and I think maybe just because I was captain of the club they just called it “Falvey’s Army.” Me and Nicki would come hang out when they had get togethers so it was more of a social hang out. To be honest, more friends than anything you know.
And then you went to India. How did you get to India? Because it was the first year of the league.
Well, the guy who I played for in New Zealand, Terry Phelan actually. My contract was ending in Charleston and I’d actually been in talks with Marc to come here for the end of the NASL season, which looked like it was going to happen. And then Terry called me and he said “Listen have you heard anything about this new league in India?” And I says, “I don’t know anything about it.” I didn’t even know they played football to be honest. He says, “Yeah! Look it up. Have a little look online about it. A lot of big players are going there now. A friend of mine who was doing a bit of TV work got a job as an assistant out there.” The guy’s name was Trevor Morgan. And Trevor said to Terry, “Listen keep an eye out for a central defender for me. We’re looking for a central defender do you know anybody?” and Terry says, “I had this Irish guy in New Zealand. Very good. He’s just out of contract in Charleston maybe he’s interested.” That’s how it kind of started. And then they looked at my CV and some of my games from that previous couple of weeks and it was passed on to their technical director and their GM. They started liking me and so it went from there. And from Terry’s recommendation, Trevor liked what he saw and the technical director liked what he saw and within a couple of days the deal was done. They told me about what was happening out there what they were trying to build. All these players were going. Top top players.
That league is amazing to me because it started out so huge right?
Yeah. Terry was doing some TV work out there and he said to me, “Look, Colin this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. This league is going to blow up! It’s something you should probably be a part of. It would be a great experience, good exposure for you. I recommend you do it.” And we got the contract agreed and it turned out to be a successful season as well. It was crazy! It was a crazy experience!
We were getting 65 000 sell outs! In the first year, yeah.
The league and the marketing team and all that, they done a really really good job. You were very very well known in the city. They blew it up so much that, you know I was one of the smaller foreign players that came in and played, but there was a lot of big big name stars that came, which helped draw attention and attract attention from fans. Not just from in India, all over the world! Everyone was going “why are these players going out here?” As soon as people started seeing the games and the crowds, everyone was like, “Okay, it kinda makes sense why people have gone out there. It’s a legit league.” And it was intense. You couldn’t leave your hotel without security. Even getting on the team bus in the morning to go to trainings, there was a lot a lot of people outside trying to get a little glimpse of the players coming out. So that was the first time I’d experienced that kind of level of fan base and it was something I’ll never forget. You see so many kids out there just waiting to get a glimpse of you, which was for some of these bigger players it’s normal I guess, but for someone coming from my background and my career who didn’t experience that, it was something really cool and something I’ll never forget.
So then what was the biggest thing that pulled you back to North America to play for the Fury?
To be honest I think when I spoke to Marc he had a big big plan for the club. Being a second year professional club people in soccer would have been thinking that he’s maybe a little bit crazy talking about how successful he wanted to club to be because it usually comes in steps. It usually takes a lot longer than the process that we seem to find ourselves in. Now that’s not to say we’re going to be successful this year. Hopefully we are, but I think he’s got the club well ahead of track. And I just liked the style of football and the little details. When he spoke to me, the detail that he knew about my game amazed me. Like he knew every little inside out of my game. I could tell right away, he’d done his homework on me. And he told me what he thought my positives were and he said where he thought he could help me in my game, which tells me the coach not only wants to be successful but he wants to help you as a player and as a person. He told me what he wanted to build. He said it might take a year or so to get to where we want to be but I think he was quietly confident of the squad he was assembling. We’ve gone from strength to strength, not fearing anybody in the league now. But we can’t get carried away with that. We need to be humble and keep doing what we’re doing because everyone in this league can beat everybody. It’s all tight. In a lot of leagues that I’ve played in, the teams down in the bottom don’t win many points. Down here, it’s so close. Jacksonville are bottom of the league one day and went and absolutely spanked Carolina 3-0 the next. So it just goes to show if you don’t turn up, you’ll get beat. But Marc had a big big part of me deciding to come to Ottawa. I have to give Nicki a shout out because he sold the club to me as well and told me how good of a city it is. Mind you he didn’t mention too much about the winter to me, which I was in a bit of a shock about! Between winter and summer, it’s like two different cities to be honest! It’s crazy! He left that part out. When I first arrived in February I was like “what is this?” For me it was great for the first couple of weeks, I was like “aw, I’ve never seen this!” And then the novelty wore off and I was like, “alright, I’m sick of training indoors! Is it April yet?” But between Nicki and I spoke a little bit to Richter and Tony Donatelli, Tommy, anybody who had a connection who’d been to Ottawa. Honestly I must have spoke to 7 or 8 different people who’d been here and everyone said, “yeah, go for it!” And then it was also, after going to India, I felt like it’d given me a new lease on life a new spring in my step and I wanted to up my game. I’d gotten a little bit of a travel bug back again if you want to put it that way. I’d done the USL Pro thing and if I couldn’t get in the MLS, which is difficult with international spots, I think I felt like NASL was probably a good step for me, a good change of leagues. You know playing the same teams in USL Pro, I wanted something new and different. I wanted like I’d tasted in India. So I was speaking to some NASL clubs and to be honest I always knew Ottawa was where I wanted to go.
What do you see as the biggest strength of the Fury?
A hundred percent, our team. I think a lot of teams in NASL are a lot of individuals. We have individuals who can change games but them individuals play for the team. I think other teams [there are] more individuals and I think if things go along for them, I think them individuals start to point the finger at where things went wrong. And I’ve been on teams like that and the team starts to get disconnected. And when teams get disconnected from individuals it’s usually not successful. I don’t see that one bit here. As a group we’re very very very very tight. Very very close. If you could see us in the locker room everyday it’s always banter, someone is always up to something! We’re a very very tight group. And I think everybody brings something different to the table, each and every one of us. Including the staff. We all kind of banter off each other but as a group and as a team I think that’s our biggest strength. I think that’s more important that we’re a unit more than individuals. To be honest if you look at all our goals, they’re coming from all over the field. We’re not relying on one player. Everyone’s doing their own little bit. And even for a couple of players who haven’t played much, I know football, they’re gonna be needed at some point in the season weather it’s one game or five games or ten games. I think if we are successful, I think we’ll all look back and go “everyone was needed and everyone played a part.”