Cliodhna Moloney

'You've got everyone looking at the good, bad and the ugly and we've got to be able to deal with that'

Ireland and Wasps hooker Clíodhna Moloney on the fallout from the France defeat, bouncing back against Italy and Never Settling.

CLÍODHNA MOLONEY HAS a lot to get off her chest.

An opening question about Saturday’s heavy Six Nations defeat to France that others might answer in a few seconds settling into an interview has the Ireland hooker talking for a good three minutes.

The disappointment shines through, but she won’t shy away from what went wrong in the 54-17 defeat in Donnybrook, in which she scored one of the host’s two tries.

cliodhna-moloney Irish Rugby Football Union / INPHO Pictured is Ireland Women’s International, Cliodhna Moloney, who today has joined forces with Guinness as part of its pledge to Never Settle until everyone belongs in sport. Irish Rugby Football Union / INPHO / INPHO

“It was a weak performance from us, and no one will deny that,” the Wasps forward deadpans. 

“There was a lot of turnover ball, a lot of penalties; we kind of played into their hands and we didn’t really execute our game plan. We won’t lie, or sugarcoat that. As a squad, we’ll take that on ourselves.

“We performed well against Wales, no doubt, but there were still areas that we should have improved more on. We needed to — not we as a squad probably, we as a nation  needed to be real about… no disrespect to Wales, but where they’re at right now. They’re in a bit of a transitional period with a new coach and have lost a few players.

“We needed to be a bit more realistic about our performance against Wales, leading into a very good French team who are clinical and will capitalise on errors.”

That, they certainly did. “We can’t be feeling sorry for ourselves. We have our reviews done, we’ve recognised where we went wrong.”

Others certainly have too, making their feelings known. It’s undoubtedly been a tough few days, the fallout compounding the defeat.

There has been plenty of interest through Ireland’s Six Nations campaign to date; good, bad and indifferent. There was no shortage of media coverage after their convincing 45-0 win over Wales in Cardiff, and some hype leading into the France game as many tipped an upset.

When the opposite happened, there was some negativity online, as expected, with the spotlight well and truly on Adam Griggs’ side in this standalone tournament.

But that scrutiny — and criticism — is certainly welcome. It’s all part and parcel of the highs and lows of high-performance sport, and only leads to growth of the game and an increased profile.

“Look, it’s a good thing,” Moloney nods. “It might take a little bit of getting used to for certain players. We’ve had this previously — in the 2017 World Cup, the spotlight was on the women’s team so there’s a couple of us that are used to that relentless media attention, which is fine because you’ve got to be able to take the good with the bad.

“Then there’s probably a few newer members of the squad that are used to playing the old-style format competition where we’re at the same time as the men and we don’t have as much coverage.

“Now, you’ve got everyone looking at the good, bad and the ugly and we’ve got to be able to deal with that because that’s where the women’s game is going forward. You’ve got to be able to deal with the reviews that will be online, look at your own personal performance, look at your team performance, learn and move on to the next game.”

That’s the plan for Italy this weekend. “That’s what makes you an athlete,” she later adds, “how you come back from the one loss or the one big win. It’s how you perform the next day after that, it’s not necessarily about that performance itself.”

All in all, she makes one thing clear as day.

“We need to be very real as well: one loss doesn’t define us, one win won’t define us either. It’s about the future, it’s about the next 18 months, beating Italy on Saturday, securing qualification for the World Cup and performing at that World Cup. Performing under pressure and being clinical under pressure against world-class opposition.”

Moloney was speaking as part of Guinness’ ‘Never Settle’ campaign, the slogan alone suiting her down to the ground. The campaign aims to tackle the lack of visibility for women’s sport and specifically representation of women in rugby, and pledges to Never Settle until everyone belongs in sport.

The Galway woman’s backstory is an interesting one, having only found rugby at the age of 20 while finishing college in Sligo. Growing up on a farm in the countryside, Gaelic football was the only thing that was accessible to her locally. That was the same in school.

While Moloney went on to find her feet at Railway Union before making the move across the water to Wasps, rugby clubs in her local area — Tuam and Claremorris — established youths minis and girls teams, while her secondary school also fields the latter now.

“That’s huge,” she enthuses. “That change, even just in the last 10, 15 years, is massive. It’s only got to get better and this campaign is about really driving that on.”

She’s now that role model, and her passion for the game and where it’s going on these shores heightens with each and every word she utters. Her team-mate Anna Caplice recently gave a brilliant, equally heartfelt, interview to The42 about the women’s game finally being recognised for what it is.

“Women’s rugby is a place where you can be anything you want to be,” she said. 

Moloney wholeheartedly agrees, ringing off various different examples and anecdotes.

“You’ve got all sorts of walks of life, and not just in the Irish team,” she explains, listing out 40-year-old multi-sport sensation Lindsay Peat “who has done it all,” and Aoife McDermott, with her basketball background, off the top of her head. There’s so many crossover Gaelic football players who, she says, easily could be in the Australian Football League Women’s [AFLW]. Thankfully, they’re playing rugby, she smiles.

Look at England, then. “You’ve got Shaunagh Brown, she was a firefighter, she’s a scuba diver, I think, an underwater scaffolder, all sorts. She was a hammer thrower. She’s been an athlete through her whole life and then she’s come in and performed in one of the best teams in the world, and is a full-time contracted athlete there now.

“That just shows that there’s a pathway no matter where you’re from, and no matter what you’re interested in as a child. Women’s sport is inclusive and it’s diverse, and there is a place for everybody. That’s hugely important.”

Another thing that’s hugely important is a win this weekend. It’s looking like it’s back to last weekend’s scene of the crime in Energia Park, with a venue switch expected in due course, where Ireland will hope to finish their campaign on a high.

A third-place finish would mean a successful campaign — “that’s our goal,” Moloney notes — with a potential two wins from three under their belt paramount as they look towards a big few months with delayed World Cup qualifiers in the summer.

cliodhna-moloney-takes-on-molly-kelly-and-manon-johnes Robbie Stephenson / INPHO Moloney facing Wales. Robbie Stephenson / INPHO / INPHO

“We’re looking to really perform against an Italian squad who’ve got a lot of the same aspirations and goals as us,” she says, the two sides well accustomed to one another by now.

“We’ve had a couple of toe-to-toe battles with them in the past. It’s probably going to be quite a tense affair, we both want to be putting stripes on each other.”

A big performance, and an injection of confidence would be much welcome.

“There’s a lot of weight on this game. We want to finish third place, we want to solidify the fact that a lot of people have realised now there’s a lot of young talent and exciting players in our squad.

“We want to remind them of that, even though we did have a disappointing team performance last weekend. It was just that, it was just a disappointing team performance against a really good quality opposition and it’s not to read too much into the loss.

“We need to put in a solid performance against Italy and set out our stall for the next 18 months. Because it is a huge 18 months, we’ve got qualification and then we’ve got next year’s Six Nations competition and then the World Cup. There’s a lot of work to be done between now and then, we don’t want to take another step backwards.”

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