“I came to the U.S. for a visit back in the early ’80s. The Irish economy was bad and a lot of my mates were already gone from Ireland,” O’Malley recalled. After the visit just like thousands of people at that time the Dubliner made his way back to the land of opportunity.
When O’Malley moved to California in the 1990s, he reached a point in his life when decisions had to be made. He chose to remain with the thing he loved most, sports. It meant going back to school for a two-year degree in sports rehabilitation, athletic training and massage therapy with emphasis on the elite athlete. “I funded my degree by working nights in a bar,” O’Malley remembered. “My days at school were 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., then I worked the bar to 11 p.m., finishing the day off with two hours or more of study.”
Driving home one day in Laguna Beach, O’Malley saw a billboard that read: “The Future Home of the U.S. National Soccer Team.” It referred to a complex in Mission Viejo where the team would live and train. He sent in his resume and within the week got a phone call from head trainer Andrew “Rudy” Rudawsky, asking for a meeting at a Saturday morning practice session on Aliso Beach in Laguna. “It was a brutal day, weather wise, with torrential rain,” O’Malley recalled. “No way I thought they’d be there but I decided to make sure and take a look.” The trainer, three coach and 30 players were all there.
Within minutes of meeting, the coaches Bora Milutinovi and Sigi Schmidt O’Malley peppered him with questions while also knocking the ball around with him. “I thought they were looking for another player,” O’Malley said. “But it was to really see if I knew the game and if I could kick a ball.” After a lengthy talk with Rudawsky, O’Malley found himself in another circle, this time with the players Alexi Lalas, Cobi Jones, Bruce Murray, Marcello Balboa and others. “We joked and laughed. I guess my fun side appealed to them,” he said. “It was magic. The players just wanted to know who I was.”
O’Malley denoted two weeks of his time to treating the players and following a game against Russia, he was offered a two-year contract as the U.S. assistant trainer.
“It was a two-year preparation and we were like one big family,” he recalled of the lead-up to the 1994 World Cup. “It was the launching pad for soccer in the U.S.A. We were a big part of building a great structure that has grown to heights we couldn’t have imagined. Players like Tab Ramos and John Harkes opened the eyes of world soccer.”
Today O’Malley manages the daily operations of the U.S. national teams’ Sports Medicine Administration, overseeing all 17 teams. His job involves maintaining relationships with FIFA, MLS, WPS and European clubs.
“All the players,” O’Malley said, “must be kept up to speed on the latest permitted and prohibited substances. My players must be ready and available for random testing. “
Starting this week, the U.S. begins preparation for the 2010 World Cup. The first 25 days are all about conditioning, physicals and concussion testing. It’s a hectic time for the medicine man with two other teams preparing for their own World Cups (the Under-17 and -20 women). O’Malley said: “We have an amazing monthly schedule against high profile teams to prepare for the big tournament. It’s an anxious time for the players, from a pool of 40, only 22 will make the trip to Africa. It’s hectic to say the least.”
O’Malley, of course, has done a great deal of traveling, meeting legends like Bobby Charlton, Ferenc Puskas, Pele and Franz Beckenbauer along the way.
He hasn’t been alone on the journey. “I have a wonderful supportive family: my wife Lynne is my backbone, friend and a great mother to two children Aidan and Jennifer,” he said.
There’ve been bumps in the road along the way. “Our son was very sick, which we took face on and dealt with the cards God gave us,” he said.
The Irishman puts his U.S. success down to dedication, hard work, trust, focus as well as support from another quarter. “I may have second-guessed myself if it wasn’t for how the Irish welcomed me when I first came over,” O’Malley said.