behind the player
'Although you might look at me and think football is the whole hog, it's only a portion of my life'
Tipperary star Aishling Moloney on how important – yet unimportant – football is, and how she nearly gave it all up.

IT’S FAIR TO say that Aishling Moloney is currently one of country’s top ladies footballers.

aishling-moloney Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Tipperary star Aishling Moloney. Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

The Tipperary forward’s profile is ever-rising, both on and off the pitch, and her name is certainly a household one in ladies football circles. The towering Cahir star has made waves on the scene over the past few years, her style of play and scoring tallies catching the eye week in, week out. 

Prodigiously talented and tipped to reach the top from her early teens, it’s hard to believe that Moloney is still only 21. She’s a two-time All-Ireland intermediate champion, a Division 2 and 3 league winner and the 2019 intermediate Player of the Year, but she almost gave it all up before it properly took off.

It was nearly all over before it really began.

In her first year of college in Dublin City University [DCU], Moloney was forced into a lengthy stint on the sideline with a medial knee ligament injury. 

“I was out for three or four months so I got into the habit of not having to answer to a trainer and enjoying the free lifestyle,” she recalls. 

That was in 2016, and it set it all off. 

She began toying with the idea of giving it all up.

On her return to the field of play, a confidence-knocking incident in a Division 3 Lidl Ladies National Football League fixture was the last straw.

“I remember standing in front of the goalposts at 20 yards and literally hitting the ball wide,” she explains, recalling a close-range free-kick. The pain on her face is almost still evident as she relives the moment.

“I was just like, ‘What’s wrong with me?’ That evening I went home to mam and dad, and they obviously were 100% with my decision. I said to them that I was giving up. I was obviously making a rash decision at the time, my head wasn’t in the right place for it.”

Aishling Moloney Lifting the All-Ireland intermediate crown in Septemer.

Looking back now, she fully realises just how impulsive it all was. Her county manager, Shane Ronayne, gave her a week-long break to further weigh up her thoughts, and at some stage in the middle of it all a close friend intervened. 

Kerry’s Caoimhe O’Sullivan — a good friend of Moloney’s from DCU — forced her onto an exercise bike in the gym, and she credits that gesture for bringing her a more positive outlook.

“I was like, ‘Look, I’ll just stick at it, keep the head down and see where it takes me.’ I did, and we ended up then going on an amazing journey. We got promoted [to Division 2 with Tipperary], we won an O’Connor Cup with DCU.

“Then we won Division 2 to get up to Division 1 and it literally just went from a little slump in the road to being an absolute roller coaster. I haven’t looked back since.”

“It was such a rash decision but when you’re in that mind-frame you can’t think straight,” she stresses.

Look everyone goes through it, people might lie and tell you that they’re loving football and they could be hating it. You have to go through the tough times to get the good times out of it. 

That’s not to say that everything has been all rosy since and there have been no more slumps or tough times, but Moloney is so thankful that she didn’t throw it all away there and then.

Football has given her so much, both on and off the pitch, and she’s eternally grateful for that. She refers to the “roller coaster” the Premier county have been on over the past few years time and time again, while she mentions how privileged she is to be an ambassador for Lidl.

“Football has opened up a lot of doors for me, it’s given me massive opportunities,” she nods. “The people that I’ve met through football, some of them are my best friends.

At the end of the day, it’s only a part of me. Although you might look at me and think it’s the whole hog, it’s only a portion of my life. When football is all over in years to come, we’ll all sit around the table and laugh at the memories we have.

“That’s going to be shared with my best friends who are involved with me. These are the things that you get out of it.”

aishling-moloney-and-ava-hartigan Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Facing Tipperary last May. Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

She’s an interesting character, and you’re left hanging on her every word as she delves deeper into how football can be both so important, but then often times, so unimportant, in the grand scheme of things. 

A PE and Biology teacher in training, she has strong beliefs that it’s important to have something in life. Or Something to get away from real life even; a release, an outlet, something you are passionate about which allows you to express yourself. 

Especially in this day and age.

Her parents, Martie and Gertie, go off dancing. Their daughter has football.

Everyone has to have something,” she explains. “You look at Instagram and it’s just so fake, you think everyone is happy and it’s so cliché but every single person that walks on this planet has their own issues going on in their life.

“Growing up… it’s even worse now with mobile phones and everyone needing to wear the same clothes. I probably grew up in a time where it wasn’t as bad, but my friends were always sporty. I could walk into a room and I mightn’t even know the person playing sport but it’s just an immediate click with them.

“I suppose all GAA people and people involved in the organisation, there’s just an immediate click. Sport definitely helped me through secondary school and stuff like that.”

“I think everyone needs to have an outlet,” Moloney, who also won an All-Ireland intermediate club camogie title with Cahir in 2016, stresses. “Young kids these days, there’s a lot going on.

“I often hate myself for being on the phone, and if I’m 21 and they’re 12 and 13, they’re so caught up in it. Once they’re involved in anything; if its not ladies football, it could be going out walking with friends, drama, dancing or whatever; you’d just encourage parents to get them involved and keep their mind focused.”

In third year of her degree in DCU — “I’m trying to finish it after getting held back,” she grins, “people are slagging me saying I’m the Professor of Physics. That’s the running joke at the minute, I don’t know how to take that one but I’m kind of happy with the professor part” — Moloney is passionate about working with kids, and helping them in any way she can.

aishling-moloney-celebrates-after-the-game Bryan Keane / INPHO At just 21, Moloney is a two-time All-Ireland champion. Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

Obesity and mental health are two issues she’s particularly interested in tackling, and she was delighted to see Lidl, the LGFA and Jigsaw launch their One Good Club initiative — and the LGFA TALK Project, too — this week.

Being a role mode is something that sits well with her, and she wants to be an influence on children and teenagers and help lead them in the right direction. 

“You probably don’t realise, but some kids out there look up to you,” she continues.

“You could say a simple throwaway sentence that you mightn’t think means much… you might walk away and think you’ve said nothing there, but for that young girl or young boy, that could literally be the difference in changing their mood.

“I always say, you’ll always remember the person who includes you in the circle. A simple gesture like that to a young kid can go an awful long way. 

Being that older person now, even among the team in Tipperary, if I can be there for the younger girls on the team outside of football — obviously we live and die football, it’s part of our lives but at the end of the day, people have lives going on outside of it. If I can be there for them during tough times, that’s something that I’d like to do. 

At just 21, it’s mad to think that Moloney is one of the more season campaigners in the set-up. They’ve lost Niamh Lonergan, leaving All-Ireland winning captain Samantha Lambert (27) as the oldest player on the panel. Everyone else then is pretty much under the age of 23.

But they’re absolutely ready to go for 2020, and an impressive outfit preparing for Division 1 league and senior championship. The challenge now is staying up in the top-tier of both competitions — they did so successfully in league last year, but were up and down in championship after relegation in 2018 — and that starts now.

Against the three-in-a-row All-Ireland senior champions in the capital tomorrow [throw-in 2pm, Ballyboden St Enda's, live on LGFA Facebook].

lidl-ladies-national-football-league-launch-2020 Seb Daly / SPORTSFILE Moloney with Dublin star Carla Rowe. Seb Daly / SPORTSFILE / SPORTSFILE

To be the best, you have to beat the best. And that means putting it up to Dublin from the get-go.

“It’s a big one alright,” Moloney concludes, keen to get her final point across loud and clear. “But you want to drive on now.

I’m not a fan of this pity story of Tipperary being relegated to intermediate last year. I think it was our own doing, we got there ourselves. It’s up to ourselves to stay up there, and get rid of this pity story of Tipperary.

“Personally, I kind of get half-frustrated. We’ve been long enough at intermediate in Tipperary, it’s about time that we step up and be senior and get the respect of people around Tipperary to come and support us. 

“Look, hopefully all going well we will be up in Division 1 and senior. It’s the start of the year now again, we’ll hit it with hammer and tongs and see where it takes us.”

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