Christy Holly comes from a family well reknowned in GAA circles, but it’s in another sport he is making his mark.
The 31-year-old, is believed to be the first Irishman to be appointed as head coach of a professional women’s soccer club in America.
Holly takes over as New Jersey’s Sky Blue FC head coach after spending the past three years as a top assistant for the club.
“I’m delighted,” explained Christy, who is also the league’s youngest Head Coach, “The NWFL is regarded as the highest level of Womens’ professional soccer in the world so it was not a decision I came to easily but I’m really excited.
“I have been very fortunate to be able to work with many good coaches in my career, all of whom I have learned from.
“Growing up in Derry I was able to play a lot of different sports from swimming to soccer to GAA and rugby and perhaps that gives me a more holistic approach to coaching.
“This opportunity presented itself and was too good to refuse.
“The profile the Women’s game gets here in the States is huge and maybe I was a bit naive in that I thought the appointment might fly under the radar.
“I spoke to different people about the position, about if it was the right time to do it but I couldn’t turn it down.”
Holly’s family have a strong tradition in the GAA.
His father Brian played for St Gall’s in west Belfast, while his brother Niall is a current member of the Derry squad and Eoghan Rua, where Christy played underage football.
Holly is also a nephew of Sean McGoldrick who played football and hurling for Antrim and five of his cousins have also played county football for Derry. Another two have played camogie for the Oak Leaf county.
However in addition to his GAA and coaching background, Holly himself made a mark in the world of local soccer and was a former player for Irish league side Limavady United.
And while he’s now making a splash in soccer, his taste of transatlantic sporting competition came many years ago as part of a City of Derry Swimming team which, under the guidance of local instructors Seamus McAnee and Carmel Gorman, made annual trips to the States.
A Sports Psychology Degree at John Moore’s University brought Holly back to Europe but a chance opportunity with Global Premier Soccer in Boston offered an intriguing route back to the US. The company, which is run by brothers Joe and Pete Bradley, is well known for bringing coaches out from Ireland and they proved a valuable first step on the management ladder for Holly.
“I went out with the intention of sampling American life. I didn’t have anything concrete in terms of jobs at home. It helped coming back to New Jersey which I knew from the swimming,” he explained.
“The coaching went well and I was enjoying it, interacting and learning. Things just snowballed from there.
“When I first went out I never had the ambition to taking on one of the professional teams in the league but it really starting escalating while I was working with the Bradley School.
“I was working with high level youth teams and was quite fortunate to enjoy some success with these teams.
“From there, I was brought in to work with the University team which a huge thing in the States, similar to the American Football set-up.
“The College game here is fantastic and so well resourced, it was a great experience.
“While working in the College system I was offered the chance to work with the Sky Blue reserve team.
“After a season with the reserves they promoted me to Assistant first team coach from there I have been given this new post which is both a huge honour and challenge.
“I was out in Portland last season and we had 22,00 fans at a game. The highest attendance of the season was 25,000 so the experience has been phenomenal and the opportunities are second to none.
“I have worked with both male and female teams at youth level and still coach the male teams alongside the girls team but as things have progressed the opportunities have presented themselves in the female game. The Womens game over here is huge, especially given they have just won the World Cup, it has gone through the roof. It is hard to believe.”