Heaney brings pro experience to UNCW
Published: Wednesday, September 21, 2011
Updated: Thursday, September 22, 2011 13:09
Aidan Heaney is welcoming and soft spoken. His office as the UNC Wilmington men's soccer coach is a small corner room where a strategy-filled white board covers an entire wall. Lining the other three walls are framed pictures of past and recent memories of his life as a soccer player and coach.
Born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England, Heaney began playing soccer as a young boy growing up between Africa and England. Starting out as a field player, he stepped into the goal at age 10 and never left.
Though his parents supported him as a young player, he says it was very different than the parental involvement of today. "Normally I would just walk right down the street and go play, or get a ride from someone who drove," he said. "We had six kids in the family so they didn't make it to many games."
While playing for the Youth English team, Heaney heard about UNC Charlotte through a teammate who also attended. Committing to the 49ers, Heaney made the transition to the United States. Coming from overseas was a big change for the 18-year-old freshman.
"It was big shock," he said. "To leave everything you've known and be away from family. But, ultimately it was the right fit and a good adjustment." Heaney powered the 49ers to their first NCAA Tournament in 1991.
Transitioning from college, Heaney took his career to Greensboro, N.C. to play for the Greensboro Dynamo in the United States Interregional Soccer League. There he led the team to two consecutive national titles in 1993 and 1994.
When the MLS started up, Heaney wasted no time joining. He made the New England Revolution team as a goalkeeper. Due to a red card in the first game of the season, the starting goalie was ejected from the game, and it was then that Heaney got his big break.
"I was petrified, sick to my stomach," he said. "You go from playing in front of three-thousand fans to thirty-thousand."
His first game as a professional keeper ended in a 1-0 win and from there it was one game after the next. Going professional meant new excitement and new expectations; players were getting paid and received a far higher amount of exposure. "There were guys who definitely stood in the spotlight, but I stayed away from it," he said.
Looking back on his career as a player, Heaney says he has no regrets. He does, however, remember an incident when he was still playing for the Revolution that still makes him laugh. Heaney was given a red card in the third minute of a match against the Colorado Rapids.
This was recorded as the fastest ejection from a match for almost 13 years until Carlos Johnson broke the record when he was expelled two minutes into a New York Red Bulls game in 2009.
"At the time my coach was not happy," he said. "There was still 87 more minutes left in the game." He smiled, and then laughed.
Having played a life that many young players now strive to accomplish, Heaney gives back to the game that taught him so much. As a player he never looked beyond a professional career, but when his time as a player began to end and UNC presented him with an assistant coaching opportunity, he knew it was the right move. Shortly after Chapel Hill he was offered a head coaching position at Penn State before finally coming to UNCW.
Heaney tells young players to enjoy the game of soccer. "Play the game and worry about the wins later," he says. "It's supposed to be fun." But as players get older and compete harder, the wins become more and important and the dreams become bigger.
Heaney tells his players that it's normal to have dreams, but they also have to be realistic. "It has to become a lifestyle. The competition is high and if you aren't one of the top players in college, it's probably not likely [that you will play professionally]," he said.
This year marks his 11th season with the Seahawks. Heaney hopes to make UNCW a top 25 team that goes on to win a championship.