Peter Lally led the Little Green girls for 36 years and five state championships.
Usually around this time of year, Peter Lally begins to draw up plays and strategies he wants to implement with the Manchester Central girls’ soccer team next fall. That is not the case this year, however.
After 36 seasons leading the Little Green and 46 overall coaching girls’ high school soccer, Lally has decided to retire.
Lally coached at Manchester West for 10 years before becoming Central’s head coach in 1984. He went 453-145-40 at Central and led the Little Green to 35 consecutive playoff berths from 1985-2019, including 17 semifinal appearances, nine state finals and five state championships (2000, 2003, 2008, 2017, 2018).
When Lally began his soccer coaching career, he learned the sport on the job. Lally was coaching girls’ cross-country and had never been involved in soccer before when then-West girls’ soccer coach Jack Amero asked him to be the Blue Knights’ junior varsity coach. Lally accepted Amero’s offer and taught himself the sport by attending soccer camps, watching college games and reading about the game.
When the Central job became available, Amero told Lally he felt the latter was ready to be a head coach.
“When the Central job opened, Jack said I had to apply for that,” Lally said. “I said, ‘Are you trying to get rid of me?’ He said, ‘No but you do a good job and you should apply for it.’”
Poetically, Central secured its first state championship under Lally by defeating Amero’s West team, 1-0, in the 2000 Class L final. In their previous two Class L final appearances — 1996 and 1997 — the Little Green fell, 2-1, to the Blue Knights. West also won the 1999 Class L title.
“We scored 12 minutes into the game and it was the only goal of the game,” Lally said of the 2000 Class L final, which he estimated about 3,000-4,000 people attended at the old Singer Family Park in Manchester. “When you’re ahead in a game, the clock drags and drags and when you’re behind, it goes by in a blink of an eye. The next 68 minutes may as well have been 68 days.
“Coaching with Jack and now coaching against him for 16 years (at that point), to do it against West, who was the defending champion, was special because of the situation and because the kids on both teams were fabulous.”
Central captured two more Class L championships before the end of the decade, winning it all in both 2003 and 2008. The Little Green won their most recent titles in back-to-back fashion, defeating Bedford, 1-0, on penalty kicks in the 2017 Division I final and Londonderry, 5-0, in the 2018 D-I final.
“Every time you go up against Central, you can’t ever expect to win,” Bedford coach Michelle Winning said. “They’re very consistent, well coached and always at the top.”
Londonderry coach Derek Dane echoed Winning’s sentiments before this past season.
“It’s in their DNA to fight you for it and you’ve got to be prepared to fight back but they’re just going to trample on you,” Dane said of the Little Green.
Using Lally’s signature diamond defensive scheme, Central allowed a combined 11 goals over its 2017 and 2018 championship campaigns. Lally said the 2018 team was the best he had at Central.
Both squads featured what Lally considers the best striker duo he ever saw on his or any other team in Paige LaBerge and Erin Flurey. LaBerge scored a program-record 72 goals at Central. Flurey owns the program record for goals in a single season.
“They made each other better,” Lally said of LaBerge and Flurey. “When you have a player that’s a top-level player on the team, no one pushes her to be better. She is the best. She’s making other people better and that’s fabulous but with Paige and Erin, that dynamic duo I had up top, those two come along once in a lifetime as a coach in high school.”
Lally believed in coaching to the talent he had and Central had an abundance of it over his tenure. Lally coached seven players who received All-New England honors and three All-Americans: 1997 graduate Katie Gayman, 2001 graduate Trisha Hewitt and LaBerge, who graduated in 2018. Gayman played at Dartmouth, Hewitt played at the University of Rhode Island and LaBerge just concluded her freshman season with Florida State.
“I’ve been spoiled over the years at Central,” Lally said.
With all of his players, Lally, a former teacher, emphasized prioritizing their education over soccer.
“I stressed that from when I was a young coach at 21, 22 years old up to today as an old man,” Lally said. “School comes first because your athletic career is going to end at some point...I’ve always stressed academics come first.”
Winning, who graduated from West in 1995, and Exeter coach Megan Young, who graduated from Exeter that same year, both played against Lally’s Central teams while in high school and are now among his closest friends.
When Winning and Young both first got into coaching, they knew Lally was always available to answer questions or give advice.
“When I was a new coach, my first year coaching coming out of college, he was a familiar face in the coaching circle,” said Young, who just concluded her 19th season leading Exeter by winning the Division I championship. “He took it upon himself to reach out and kind of mentor me in my early years.”
From when she was a goalkeeper at West to her early years coaching, Winning said Lally always believed in her. Whenever Winning’s teams faced Central, it always brought her back to her days playing at West.
“Coaching against Peter is pretty fun, actually,” said Winning, who has coached Bedford since the school opened in 2007 and previously coached West (2006) and Concord (2002-03). “He has a passion for the game. It really comes out in his coaching. He kind of has that old-school style of coaching. For me, when I look over across the benches, I remember being a kid playing against him. It’s the same. He gets pretty fired up and wants so badly for his teams to be successful.
“I try to think about coaching against someone else wearing green and I can’t fathom it because I’ve never experienced it as a coach or a player.”
The Little Green went 12-4-2 overall and reached the Division I quarterfinals this past fall. Lally told his players before the season started that it would be his last.
If whoever succeeds Lally at Central asked him for advice, he would tell them to make the team their own and to always be honest with their players.
“They can’t try to do what I did. They’ve got to make their own team,” Lally said. “But whatever it is, the only thing I’d tell them is you’ve got to be honest with the kids. If you’re honest with the kids, you can’t ask for anything more.”
Lally said honesty between himself and his players was a key factor in Central’s success during his time leading the program.
“You always want to be 100% honest, particularly with yourself” Lally said. “When you look in the mirror every day, you’re the only one who knows if you put forth 100% of the effort of if you did not.”