A FORMER Manchester United footballer swapped Fergie for the clergy – and warned fans not to turn supporting their team into a religion.
The Northern Irishman, now 44, spent seven years at Old Trafford, coming through the academy to make a handful of first-team appearances under Sir Alex Ferguson.
He made his debut in October 1997 but struggled for game time due to the abundant quality up front and in midfield.
His only Premier League appearance for the club came on the final day of the 1997-98 season as United beat Barnsley to finish second behind Arsenal.
The player joined Norwich in 1999 but just as his first-team career was finally taking off, he suffered a broken leg.
However, the 27-cap Green and White Army international battled back and was a key part of the promotion-winning side in 2003-04.
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He went on to have spells with Cardiff and Leyton Orient before retiring in 2009 aged 31 after a short stint at King's Lynn.
And rather than taking the traditional route into coaching, the footballer stepped away from the game altogether and trained to be a Roman Catholic priest.
He once earned £600,000 per year as a pro player but revealed he got "bored" of "the money, the cars, the nightclubs and the attention of women".
The mystery footballer who traded the pitch for the pulpit is Philip Mulryne – or to give him his full title, the Reverend Father Philip Mulryne.
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Fr Mulryne, who grew up in West Belfast, was ordained a priest for the Dominican Order in 2017 and is currently based at St. Mary's Priory Church in Cork.
Speaking in 2021, he said that sport was a “wonderful vehicle for teaching great virtues” but should be kept in perspective and not treated as a religion despite some crossover.
Fr Mulryne added: "Even the word religion comes from the Latin Religare – to bind, to rebind yourself.
"That’s what we are doing when we practice our religion towards God. We bind ourselves to God and Him to us.
"In a sense, people bind themselves together into a particular club and so it is a form of worship in some way."
Peter Crouch played alongside Mulryne on loan at Norwich as they helped the Canaries into the Premier League and recalled enjoying a fair few nights out with the former Red Devils prodigy.
Maybe it was hanging out with me in those giddy months that convinced him he needed a fresh direction
The BT Sport pundit wrote in his new book How to Be an Ex-Footballer: "I’m pleased for Phil.
“As we qualified for the Champions League, and unleashed a hell called Gareth Bale upon Maicon, Phil was moving to the Pontifical Irish College in Rome and studying theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University.
“Not once did he ever talk about religion to me. Looking back, maybe I should have asked him.
"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."
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Mulryne is not the first Premier League footballer to take on a role within the church after hanging up their boots.
Ex-Chelsea and Newcastle man Gavin Peacock relocated to Canada in 2008 to study theology and is now a pastor at Calvary Grace Church in Calgary.
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