6 years ago, he was released by a Premier League club. Now, he's 'very, very thankful'

Evan Moran on the challenges of life as a footballer.

Evan Moran pictured playing for Bray in 2018.
Evan Moran pictured playing for Bray in 2018.
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

FOR AS LONG as he can remember, Evan Moran dreamed of starring in the Premier League.

“I was probably like every other Irish kid, England was the be-all and end-all. That was all I’d looked at,” he tells The42.

Moran had familial links to football. His father played at a decent level, including a stint with Athlone Town.

From an early age, he played with local side St Malachy’s in Edenmore, before graduating to top Dublin schoolboy clubs in Home Farm and St Kevin’s Boys.

Making it as a professional footballer was all he thought about as a kid.

“There was nothing else that came to mind, it was just tunnel vision really. All football.

“[My dad is] the main reason that I got into it in the first place. I don’t even remember being put into it, to be honest. It was just one of those things that I’ve always done. He played, so obviously, that’s where it came from. It’s just growing up with a love for the game. You don’t want to do anything else.”

At age 15, a big opportunity came about. Moran was signed by West Brom, leaving school halfway through Transition Year to make the switch to the English club.

Like many youngsters who move abroad, the former Ireland underage international at times suffered from homesickness but reflects positively overall on the stint.

“I really enjoyed it at West Brom. It was one of the biggest learning curves of my life and makes you grow up really fast. Kids go over at 15-17 when you’re still a baby in terms of football. You’re going from the smaller pond that’s Ireland to this massive world of Premier League football. You see lads coming in from every corner of the world. It’s a big eye-opener.”

With the new rules regarding Brexit currently being enforced, a 15-year-old equivalent of Moran nowadays would not be able to go over to England until at least the age of 18.

“It’ll probably stand to them better,” he says. “The later they go over, the more chance they have.

“There are pros and cons to both obviously. Going over as a young lad, you can learn a lot. But I think we can make a good situation out of it. I think it’s important for younger lads as well to know that England isn’t the be-all and end-all for football, which a lot of young Irish lads have in their head.”

At the Baggies, Moran trained alongside a host of talented players, namechecking Kemar Roofe, Adil Nabi and Tyler Roberts as among the footballers who impressed him most. There was also a sizeable Irish contingent at West Brom around that period, including Phil Gannon, Dara O’Shea, Robbie McCourt and Zach Elbouzedi. 

Given the intense competition for places, Moran admits he was not overly shocked by the club’s decision to let him go in 2015.

“I’ll be honest, it wasn’t much of a surprise. There were a lot of really good goalkeepers at the time who had pro contracts before me. You can only take so much through and that is football at the end of the day. It was obviously disappointing because I enjoyed being at the club. 

“I think there were other ‘keepers at the club that had a lot more ability than I did. I was always a hard worker. Alex Palmer, who was the year above me, he’s absolutely flying at Lincoln now. And you had some younger lads as well at the club, who are showing a lot more capabilities now they’re off on loan.

“Josh Griffiths, who is playing League Two, he’s doing really well. He was a couple of years younger than me. And Adam Przybek, who’s at Ipswich now. A good friend of mine who’s still one of my best mates, Ethan Ross, he’s currently on loan playing at Weymouth in the conference, and another ‘keeper who had unbelievable ability. Then you had your first-team ‘keepers there at the time — Ben Foster was just on a different level altogether. But you learn from these goalkeepers as well, so I wouldn’t change anything.” 

Since leaving West Brom, Moran’s football career has been frustratingly stop-start. In the six years since departing the Baggies, the goalkeeper has been on the books at 10 different clubs.

evan-moran Evan Moran is a former Ireland underage international. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Initially, after departing the Premier League outfit, he linked up with League of Ireland side Cabinteely. Only a few weeks later, an opportunity to move to the US with college football team Akron Zips presented itself. He is reluctant to go into too much detail as to why it ultimately did not work out, putting it down to “uncontrollable reasons”.

He was still only 18 when he signed for Athlone on a free transfer in 2016, but the club’s financial issues at the time made life difficult while losing his starting spot there, after a run of first-team games, also contributed to him leaving the club halfway through the season.

“These are all experiences that you take with you and you get to learn how football works at all levels. So it was challenging and educational, I would call it.”

He then spent a “difficult couple of months trying to find a club” and briefly played for Shamrock Rovers U19s. After possible options in Northern Ireland failed to materialise, he signed with Bray Wanderers, which he describes as a “lifeline”.

It was an enjoyable experience at the Carlisle Grounds, but once again short-lived.

“I knew I was going in as a number two because they had Aaron Dillon on loan from Blackburn. Aaron picked up an injury a couple of months into the season. I ended up getting in and keeping my place. I had a good run of games in the team, which I absolutely loved. 

“It was great playing in the top division in Ireland, coming up against some really good teams like Shamrock Rovers, Cork, when they were winning a lot and Dundalk.

“The situation with Bray at the time was a bit unstable. There were financial issues there and it was challenging.

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“The season didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to. A lot had to do with the circumstances off the pitch.”

He is unsure how much influence the off-field turmoil had on the decision, nonetheless, Moran was disappointed not to be offered an extended deal by the Seagulls.

“I was a little bit surprised at that, I’m not going to lie, but that’s football and there was a lot of different managers that year, so it’s hard to stake your claim and show what you’re about.”

Brief spells followed at Ballymena, Warrenpoint, Dungannon and FC United, but none of the opportunities lasted more than 12 months and as it stands, at 23, Moran finds himself without a club. 

Yet the youngster remains upbeat about his future in the invariably harsh environment of football.

“I would definitely love to play and coach simultaneously if the right opportunity was to come around,” he adds. “I still feel like I have a lot to offer.”

Currently based in Liverpool and living with his US-born fiancée, Moran has already made enquiries about doing his Uefa coaching badges, while he was recently accepted by a couple of colleges for a business and sports management degree.

“My fiancée was getting her masters over here [in England] and it was probably around November 2019, where I made the decision that I was going to come in the new year with the focus of trying to obtain my badges and getting a team, whether it be non-league or something like that. Because obviously, the situation in Ireland was difficult. There are a lot of good goalkeepers in the league and teams had all their goalkeepers sorted, so I looked further afield. 

“We didn’t want to be living away from each other as well, so that was a big factor in it.”

Moran now appreciates the importance of having something outside of football to fall back on, having experienced first hand the pitfalls of relying solely on it to make a living.

“I left school at 15 and I am going back to college in September to get a degree. My fiancée Nicole has been massive in that. She never told me ‘you’ve got to go and do it,’ but she’s got her master’s. So I obviously see her doing all these things, she’s well educated and she gave me the motivation to go: ‘You know what? I want to get a degree.’ I’m very, very thankful for that. If I didn’t have her there, whether I’d have that motivation for going back to college is maybe another thing. 

“And my parents as well, they play a massive part in my life too. They always give me good advice when I need it. The people that you have close to you can be a big help when you are going through challenging times.

“If I didn’t have that support network, I don’t know where I’d be. It’s just one of those things that I’m eternally grateful for.

“If there are any younger lads that end up reading this article, if they’re not well tuned in and everything’s just about playing, definitely look into some other form of education, whether it’s within the sport or outside it. It’s important and probably would make them better players. My dad used to always tell me that as a kid, but I was a know-it-all.”

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Paul Fennessy

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