Cochrane started out as a youngster with Derry City F.C. and had been rejected after a months trial with Everton F.C., then managed by Billy Bingham, for "not having the right build" to play in midfield. Cochrane returned to the Irish League to play for Linfield F.C., and then Coleraine FC, thinking his dream of playing English football was over. At Coleraine, under the tutelage of former Northern Ireland boss, Bertie Peacock, Cochrane developed into a fine winger and was capped by his country for the first time in October 1975 against Norway.
In October 1976 Cochrane moved to Burnley F.C., then playing in Division Two. With Burnley he became a much sought after player - his scintillating displays aiding Burnley in their survival from relegation. Middlesbrough F.C. later paid a club record fee of £233,333 for him in October 1978. This was also a record fee for a Northern Ireland player and his debut came in a 2-0 home win over Norwich City F.C. on October 14. After five years at Ayresome Park and a brief spell playing in Hong Kong with Eastern AA, Cochrane moved to Gillingham F.C. in October 1983.
Never really established in the international team, indeed 13 of his 26 caps came as a sub, he is remembered for his goal against England during the 1980 British Home Championship. The goal came nine minutes after he had come on as a sub, and just sixty seconds after the English had scored, to earn Northern Ireland a crucial 1-1 draw as they went on to win the Championships for the first time in 66 years.
A hamstring injury picked up in a warm-up match against France ruled Cochrane out of the 1982 World Cup squad after playing in all but two of the qualifiers. He was capped just twice more after that World Cup series, acting as Martin O’Neill’s deputy in a British Championship game against Scotland in December 1983, as Northern Ireland won the trophy; and as substitute for Gerry Armstrong in a European Championships qualifier against Finland in May 1984. He failed to make1986 World Cup squad before short spells with Millwall FC (November 1986) and Hartlepool United (January 1987). Later Cochrane moved into non-league football with Billingham Synthonia, coached the Saudi Arabian Military team, and had a spell a player-manager of the ill-fated South Bank.
Terry Cochrane lived in the Middlesbrough area for a number of years, working as a media pundit and youth coach.
In January 2008 he was appointed manager at Glenavon FC who play in the Carnegie Irish Premier League, though he left the club by mutual consent the following June.
In August 2009 he took over as coach of Hartlepool Ladies Football Club.