Assistant Director of Athletics and head women’s soccer coach Colm McFeely has coached soccer for longer than any current member of the women’s soccer team has been alive, and has played the sport for as long as he can remember.
“[I got started] pretty much the same way every kid in Ireland does, just by kicking a ball in the street,” McFeely said. “There were not that many other things to do, and it just seemed to be something that I gravitated towards.”
In his youth McFeely was also involved in basketball, track and field and Gaelic football—a unique derivative of traditional Irish ball games played between two teams of 15 players each.
While McFeely hails from Northern Ireland, he has also lived in Melbourne and Hong Kong, where he both played and coached soccer. In 1990, he moved to Southern California with his family in pursuit of better educational opportunities for his daughter, who was born deaf.
As a child, McFeely would never have dreamed of traveling internationally to play and coach the sport with which he grew up.
“Sometimes fate takes you in certain directions, or things happen, and it’s not so much the thing that happens, it’s how you respond to it,” McFeely said. “You just gotta take the opportunity when it’s there.”
His international adventures all started with a car accident in which McFeely tore both cruciate ligaments.
“I’d always wanted to travel, and I was told I’d never play again with that injury, but I was so dogged and determined to play, that I did end up playing again, and consequently got the offer to travel,” McFeely said.
When McFeely first moved to Melbourne in 1974, the social structure of the city was primarily comprised of ethnic groups. This polarization came as a result of post-World War II immigration of people from varying countries of origin. He signed on as one of the few full-time professionals—most players were semi-pro—for the Hungarian club, which competed with other professional clubs, including the Greeks, the Maltese, the Italians and the English.
“From Ireland, which was not very diverse in those days, to move there, and have all these different cultures and different types of food and things of that nature, I think it expanded my horizons a bit,” McFeely said. “So that was quite interesting, and enjoyable, actually.”
While living in Australia, McFeely visited Hong Kong while on loan from the Australian soccer club. Although his initial plan was to return to Melbourne after half a year, six months soon became 17 years.
“When I got to Hong Kong, I was like a kid in a candy store,” McFeely said. “I looked at this place, and it resonated with me. I don’t know why that was, but I just loved the vibrancy of it.”
Soon after his initial visit, McFeely began to play for a soccer club in Hong Kong, an opportunity that allowed him to travel all over Southeast Asia. One notable experience he had while traveling was eating breakfast in Taiwan with a four-star general from the Chiang Kai-shek/Cultural Revolution era.
After a decade in Asia as a professional player, McFeely got into coaching.
“My knees were beginning to give me problems, and I wanted to stay involved in the game,” McFeely said. “There was a group of other people there that were likeminded, and we decided to form our own club, and we did, called Hong Kong Harps.”
Though he had previously coached youth in soccer camps sponsored by Coca-Cola, the formation of the Harps was McFeely’s official introduction to the world of professional coaching. Aided by his expertise in both playing and coaching, the Harps rose in the ranks from Hong Kong’s third division to first division status within three years.
“When we got into the first division I quit playing and just became the coach of that team, and that’s the way it happened,” McFeely said. “That was how I got my introduction to the actual coaching in the professional realm.”
In Hong Kong, McFeely obtained a FIFA coaching license, met and married his wife and subsequently welcomed a daughter. As a result, his relocation to Granada Hills in Southern California was a drastic change.
Though McFeely initially had difficulty finding a job relevant to soccer, he eventually met Costa Nicolaou, the head boys’ coach at Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks, through the Olympic Development Program. When Nicolaou took an assistant coaching position at Cal State Northridge, McFeely took over the head job at Notre Dame.
It wasn’t until another 10 years had passed that McFeely began to work full-time at Occidental, coaching both men’s and women’s soccer, which he would continue to do for the next five years. In 2007, he relinquished the responsibility of coaching the men’s team to a new full-time coach, DJ Waddington, and switched to coaching only the women’s team, although he continued to oversee both programs.
In 2012, McFeely was promoted to Assistant Director of Athletics. As an assistant athletic director, McFeely’s responsibilities involve discussing relevant issues with younger coaches who do not have as much experience at Occidental, as well as a variety of ad hoc projects, including coordinating with other departments such as Residential Education & Housing and Campus Dining.
“We’re a very tight department. All of the coaching staff get on well with each other. We support each other,” McFeely said. “I can be of assistance to some of these younger coaches, and maybe mentor a little bit going forward.”
While busy with multiple roles, McFeely takes his role as the women’s soccer coach very seriously, and pushes his team to play to the best of their ability.
“The excellence we seek in the classroom can be mirrored and should be viewed as having the potential to achieve that same excellence on the soccer field,” McFeely said. “They’re playing a competitive sport, and it’s the highest competitive level that they’re going to play in their career. I want them to have the best possible experience we can give them.”
Though members of the women’s soccer team acknowledge that McFeely pushes them hard, they appreciate his effort and dedication to their success, as well as his selfless nature and inspirational qualities.
“We had our first loss [on Sept. 24], and it sucked, but he was the one to help pick us back up after the loss, like, ‘Yeah, it’s okay to be upset, but we’re just going to move on from it,’” goalkeeper Dallas Gunny (first-year) said.
McFeely may be a generation older than the women he coaches, but he makes no effort to distance himself from them. In fact, he does the opposite.
“He jokes around with us, and he’s very friendly with the team,” midfielder Erin Iacullo (first-year) said. “When we’re practicing, he’s the coach, and strict, but when we’re done with practice he’s joking and funny, and he knows how to have a good time.”
McFeely has many fond memories of events on campus over the course of his 22 years at Occidental, including his only daughter’s wedding in front of Branca Patio.
He cites alumni games as another of the highlights of his experience at Occidental, and especially values the bonds that students are able to form with mentoring alumni.
“Now there’s an identity that our current players have with the alums knowing that there was somebody here before them who has actually tried to pave the way for them,” McFeely said.
McFeely emphasizes the importance of leadership opportunities within the context of sports, and advocates the need for a balanced life. He wants his student athletes to have a good experience within the sports program and Occidental in general and to graduate prepared to take the next step.
“If our process is getting them in that direction, then I think we’re doing some of the right things,” McFeely said.
Spanning four countries, McFeely’s soccer career is an adventurous and fulfilling one that he considers himself fortunate to have had. He has experienced unique events in each country, met people he wouldn’t have otherwise been able to meet and above all has stayed true to his passion for soccer.
“Here I am, still doing something that I enjoy, in an environment that I really value,” McFeely said.