Matthew Thorne is the head coach at the University of Western Alabama where he heads up the Mens soccer program. Matty is also a Colaiste Ide alum like myself and has achieved great things in his playing and coaching career since arriving on his scholarship in the US. In this weeks interview Matty discusses how to gain a soccer scholarship, be successful as a collegiate athlete, tips for foreign players coming to the US and how he has made the UWA program a successful one.
JC: Matty, thanks so much for being part of the “Coaches Series”. For those unfamiliar with your story can you give a synopsis of how you ended up in your current position?
MT: I started at the “Football Association” course in Finglas, Dublin back in 2002-2003. The course ran by Jim Conroy and Danny Crowley was geared towards young Irish players looking to gain a scholarship to the states, with training 5 days a week and doing classes to prepare for the SAT exam. At the end of the year they picked 2 squads to travel to Memphis, Tennessee to compete against US Universities and participate in the John Talley Soccer Showcase. After this tournament I received a soccer scholarship to play at Martin Methodist College (MMC) in Pulaski, Tennessee in 2003.
I played four years at MMC and graduated with a double Degree in Business and Sport Management. Upon graduation I started my coaching career as a Graduate Assistant Soccer coach at Auburn University at Montgomery (AUM) from 2007-2009. After I graduated with a M.B.A from AUM I began my full time coaching position as an assistant Coach at Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Alabama, from 2007-2009.
In 2011, I got the opportunity to start the Inaugural Men’s Soccer team at NCAA Division 2 side, the University of West Alabama.
JC: What position did you play?
MT: I was a goalkeeper. Also fancied myself as striker
JC: What are some of your most memorable moments from your playing career and why?
MT: In 2004 we had an unbeaten regular season and won the regular season and the Tran-South Athletic Conference. Winning my first championship at college was a special feeling.
JC: When did you know you wanted to coach and who has been the biggest influence on your career so far?
MT: After College I wanted to play professional. I played some semi-professional ball in Iceland but while finishing up my masters I really enjoyed the coaching side and I committed from there that I wanted to be a college coach.
I have many influences, my dad Vinny Thorne was a big influence on work ethic (He doesn’t have a clue about football, but he influenced me in how to go about my goal and work hard). My old gaffers Jim Conroy and Danny Crowley were very influential from my Colaiste Ide days. My MMC college coach Paschal Dunne gave me the opportunity and he showed me numerous ways to be a successful coach and how to enjoy the job. Also my old boss Wulf Koch at AUM was a big influence and I was lucky to get the chance to start this amazing career.
JC: Do you have any advice for young coaches coming up as to what they should do to better prepare for that first big job?
MT: The key is perseverance; we all need to get that first opportunity to prove ourselves. If you work hard enough, network, and keep developing your coaching qualifications you will get your shot.
JC: What are the best parts of running a program and also the most challenging?
It was a unique situation at UWA because I started the program from scratch so I feel it’s like my baby. I started it and help it grow and develop. Coaching is not work if you love your job. You will never work a day in your life with that mindset and I feel that way in this career. Coaching sessions and games are the best for me. Most Challenging would be scholarship distribution. I wish I could offer all my players as much as possible, but we all have scholarship constraints and we have to spread them out to the whole roster. I have a roster of about 30 players each year.
JC: Looking back who would you say was the best coach you played under and also who were some of the best players you had the privilege of playing with?
MT: Best Coach Paschal Dunne at MMC. Some of the Best players I played with include Alan O’Connor, Paul Musoke, Richard Askey, Neil Phelan all from MMC.
JC: Do you have any tips for Irish players looking to come and play in the US?
MT: Get Footage together as soon as your 5th year in Secondary school. For NCAA purposes they must take a social Science –History and Biology and a few other classes to be eligible. For players taking their leaving and have their heart set on going to America I would advise taking Ordinary level courses as right now the NCAA don’t give an extra credit for higher level classes.
Start a strength and condition program at least 1 year before coming over as the physicality and speed of the college game is extremely fast and players will struggle if they don’t come prepared.
Contact coaches with footage from your 5th year. Prepare for the SAT exam, the higher score you get the more opportunity and options you will have regardless of the quality of player.
JC: From your experience what allows Irish players stay the course in the US instead of gong home after the first semester? Is it mindset or is there something more in your opinion?
MT: I feel it is a mindset. Yes, it is difficult your first few years, the first year will be the toughest and especially Christmas time of your first year. Everyone is out in the pub having the craic, but get back to the states your spring semester and you should never regret it. I always have the mindset “ I can go back to Ireland any day I want, but the opportunity to play college football in America is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
JC: What is your all time favorite pair of football boots?
MT: Adidas Copa’s, old school is the best.
JC: What team do you support and why?
MT: Liverpool, to torture myself!
JC: Looking back, what memory still makes you laugh to this day?
MT: Too many, some can’t be written on this. But if you get the chance to come to the states on a scholarship, grab it with both hands and give it the best shot you can. My four years of college football are the best memories I have in my young adult life, never any regrets.
Now I have a beautiful family and great career coaching in Alabama, I couldn’t be happier. I wouldn’t be here without all the people that helped me on the way.
Pictures courtesy of Joe R. Chance, photographer, UWA.