Shropshire Star

Wolves stay was short but sweet for John Melligan

JJ Melligan was a player who loved to try and get fans off their seats.

John Melligan warming up during Wolves v Nottingham Forest in 2002

Attack-minded, taking on defenders, trying his luck from distance, sometimes with spectacular results.

That Wolves, his first club, and their next opponents Bournemouth, where he made his senior debut on loan, ultimately didn’t get the opportunity to see the best of Melligan’s mercurial talents has no bearing on the fond feelings he retains for both.

And for those among the Molineux faithful with only fleeting glimpses via two first team substitute appearances of the Dubliner’s overall career, it actually went on to be a very successful one across the lower leagues.

Notably just down the A449 at Kidderminster Harriers, where he was a key influence in helping them to their highest ever league position, at Doncaster, as a part of the squad which won the League Two title, and particularly at Cheltenham, whom he helped to another League Two promotion and then survival in League One.

In total, Melligan chalked up 331 appearances in English football – Leyton Orient completing his set – and notched 42 goals. Circumstances may have combined to prevent him ever really making a sustained breakthrough at Molineux, and he holds himself partly responsible for that. But he can certainly reflect with plenty of pride on a more than decent career.

“It’s funny - and I know a lot of players say this - but when you are playing, I am not sure you realise what you are doing or achieving until it’s all over,” he reveals.

“That’s when you look back and think, ‘did all that really happen’?

“I was chatting about this to my Dad not long ago in the sense that you don’t really take it all in when you are in the middle of your career.

“It is only when looking back, and even having conversations like this now, that it brings back memories and many happy ones as well.”

Now 41, Melligan has been back home in Ireland for several years, adapting to life after football but still keeping a keen interest.

“When I played, I never really enjoyed watching games but now I love watching again,” he admits.

And all this over two-and-a-half decades after first crossing the Irish Sea to pursue his dream of playing in England.

Part of an all-conquering Home Farm team which was winning every league and cup going in Dublin, and from whom nine of the first eleven clinched moves to England, Melligan was part of a strong Irish contingent seeking employment at Molineux.

From an age group above, Robbie Keane, Keith Andrews, Paul Loughlin, Stephen Hackett and Seamus Crowe were already in situe and Melligan and Home Park team-mate Shane Barrett were among another batch heading over for a trial.

Melligan had already come to the attention of Sunderland and Nottingham Forest, and there was even talk of Arsenal and Liverpool, but after impressing in his trial game, within 24 hours his parents had been summoned and he had put pen to paper on a Wolves scholarship with a professional contract scheduled to follow.

Wolves young guns Matt Murray and sub John Melligan celebrate victory in 2002

His status as the standout performer in the trial game also secured a shirt signed by all the players from Steve Bull’s testimonial match between Wolves and Brazilian side Santos, part of a motivational carrot dangled by then Academy manager Chris Evans, with whom Melligan got on well.

From there however, his Wolves career didn’t get off to the smoothest of starts. Which was due, in part, to a tragic and cataclysmic event which affected the entire world’s consciousness.

“When I first went over to start the contract, I suffered terribly with homesickness,” Melligan explains.

“I actually travelled over on the day that Princess Diana died, and came back a week later on the day of her funeral.

“I just really couldn’t settle at all, and I don’t know whether that was partly because of what happened as England wasn’t a great place to be because everyone was so upset.

“It ended up being a really bad time to go over and I ended up going straight back home.

“Six months later, I went back to Wolves, and tried again.

“I was more prepared this time, I knew what to expect and I was ready for it.

“Only thing was, I had lost that previous contract by going home, so I had to prove myself all over again.”

And the way to prove himself? Once back on the books and back in the building, as with so many young players, that was through loan spells elsewhere.

On the positive, this time Melligan had settled well at Wolves, he was lodging with Josie Edwards, who had previously looked after Keane and Hackett, and so the foundations were on far firmer ground as he looked to make a name for himself.

Bournemouth was the first port of call. Albeit a very different Bournemouth to today’s Premier League model.

Managed by Wolves fan Sean O’Driscoll, Melligan made his senior footballing debut, against Tranmere on December 1st, 2001, in a team including now Newcastle boss and assistant Eddie Howe and Jason Tindall.