The scorer of the goal that took the All Whites to only their second World Cup finals had virtually given up all hope of representing the country of his birth after winning international caps at junior level for England.
The 27-year-old Fallon was making only his third appearance for New Zealand when he headed home Leo Bertos’ corner in the Oceania/Asia play-off against Bahrain to book the Kiwis’ place in South Africa this coming summer. However, as a teenager playing for English club side Barnsley, he had already earned himself international recognition with his adopted home and scored twice for their Under-17s against Turkey.
A born-again Christian and – through his mother’s Ngati Porou tribal roots – only the second Maori ever to feature among Britain’s professional ranks, he won further caps for England Under-19s and looked set for a glittering career.
His UK-born father, Kevin Fallon, had emigrated to New Zealand in the 1970s and was assistant coach to the All Whites when they reached the 1982 World Cup finals in Spain.
Over a period of three-and-a-half decades the gruff Yorkshireman had countless engagements with the New Zealand Football Association and Oceania Football Confederation, during which time he had spells as coach of the All Whites’ national team and several of their junior sides. And for much of that time he would make sure his two sons, Sean and Rory, were up at six every morning for strenuous beach runs before ending their evenings with training drills.
Sean became the first player from outside the British Isles to be recruited as an apprentice by Liverpool, but he failed to make the grade at Anfield and eventually drifted into the West Australian State League.
However, in 1999, Barnsley offered Rory a somewhat less glamorous gateway into English football when the Tykes’ youth development officer, Colin Walker, who had played under Fallon senior for Gisborne City and New Zealand, recognised the youngest Fallon’s potential and went about nurturing it.
But after his early breakthrough, Rory’s career stalled and he plied his trade in the lower leagues with Shrewsbury Town, Swindon Town, Yeovil Town and Swansea City before joining Plymouth Argyle in 2007.
Only a year ago he was ruing his original decision to reject New Zealand in favour of playing for England when he was a youth.
“I actually regretted pledging myself to England long before it became obvious I wouldn’t appear at full international level with them – even as far back as 1999 when my dad was in charge of New Zealand at the World Under-17 Championship,” he admitted.
“I cringe to think of all the campaigns I could have been involved in, but I am resigned to never playing international soccer again.”
However, the fates intervened when FIFA surprisingly loosened its eligibility rules and the striker marked his unexpected return to international football with a goal on his debut for New Zealand in a friendly against Jordan in September 2009.
And two appearances later, when Bertos clipped a perfectly flighted corner onto the head of his former flatmate in Barnsley, the Oceania champions and Fallon were on their way to the World Cup finals.
Having abandoned his England aspirations, Rory hopes the World Cup will now lead to the other great dream he had when he arrived in the UK – a chance to play in the Premier League.