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'It was a huge honour' - Ireland's Reading 'keeper a shining light on disappointing night

Grace Moloney staked a real claim for the number one jersey in her first competitive start for Ireland.

ON A DISAPPOINTING night where Ireland’s Euro 2022 dream was dashed, there was one major positive, and it came in goal.

The decision to change it up and start Grace Moloney paid dividends, the Reading goalkeeper one of the leading lights in Ireland’s valiant performance against world football heavyweights Germany.

republic-of-ireland-v-germany-uefa-womens-euro-2021-qualifying-group-i-tallaght-stadium Grace Moloney shows her frustration at conceding. Source: PA

Moloney came in for her first competitive start, and third cap, off the back of scintillating club form with the Royals in the English Women’s Super League [WSL] and she certainly staked her claim for the number one shirt.

While Marie Hourihan missed Ireland’s recent gut-wrenching 1-0 defeat to Ukraine through injury, the first-choice starter has been out of favour and was cut from the matchday squad, while West Ham’s Courtney Brosnan dropped to the bench.

And 27-year-old Moloney, born in Slough near Reading and qualifying through her grandparents, grabbed the opportunity with both hands, putting in a confident and assured performance.

While she got within inches of saving Germany’s 21st-minute penalty, there was very little she could do for all three goals. And Vera Pauw was pleased with her afterwards.

“She was fantastic,” the Ireland boss said. “She can only grow and I am so proud of her. We left her out of the squad two camps ago and that was not a misjudgement, that was her performance at that moment but she decided, ‘I need to do things differently.’

“What she told us is she chose, ‘I’m going to play the game, I’m not going to just do every step that the coach tells me to do.’ That’s freed her up and by being free, she could develop the talent that she has.’ From here, she can only grow.

“I’m very proud. I’m also proud of our goalkeeping coach [Jan Willem van Ede], he’s got a big say in who’s playing, and that he had the guts to do this. We all agreed. 

“We have a situation that is very rare, that the goalkeeping position is a not a fixed one but the best goalkeeper plays over the period. We take all the club performances with that and how you behave here and in every single aspect, Grace is just flourishing at the moment. She really, really deserved it and she didn’t let us down.”

While the disappointment was etched across Moloney’s face afterwards, she was full of chat with the media, countering questions with some of her own as she assessed her performance.

Did you stake your claim tonight?

“Hopefully. Did I do alright?”

“Yeah?… okay,” she smiled after a resounding yes. 

It’s not been straightforward getting that chance at senior level. Time certainly had to be bided, even though she played for Ireland all through the underage ranks, starred for the history-making U17s at the World Cup in 2010 and was named U19 Player of the Year in 2011.

the-ireland-team-huddle-before-the-second-half The Ireland team huddle. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“I’ve waited a while to get back into the team. It’s been tough. I’d say lockdown was an eye opener for me. I was lucky that I don’t live too far from my goalkeeper coach and one of my outfield coaches.

“One of my outfield coaches got me into a mentality that mistakes happen, you’ve just got to get them out of your head. Since then, I feel my game has just improved. I’m playing with less fear, whereas I used to get into games thinking, ‘Where is she going to hit it, what’s she going to do?’

“This has been my strongest season so far, and probably the reason why I started tonight.”

Understandably, Moloney doesn’t shy away from the fact that she’s been overlooked. Players want to play, and that’s the bottom line.

But she also respects her opposition for the number one shirt.

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“Yeah, I was disappointed not to start before tonight,” she concedes.

“The other goalies are great as well; Courtney is playing at West Ham, Marie in Portugal and Nemo [Niamh Reid-Burke] is going for golden glove over here, keeping clean sheets and playing each week. The goalkeeper union is a good standard. It is hard, but obviously you want to play.”

When that long-awaited nod arrived from Pauw on Monday, the feeling was like no other.

I was really excited and honoured. Slightly nervous, but more so gutted that my family couldn’t be here. I wouldn’t say I was nervous, I was buzzing to play. It was a huge honour to play against the best players in the world, and I really enjoyed it.”

Her proud family watching on surely enjoyed the performance she put in too, if they successfully found a link, along with her father’s mother from Cavan and father who hails from Tipperary.

“It’s hard coming in working with a new backline that you’re not used to playing with,” she added. “It’s about learning different things that people can relate to and work off, different tones if you like.

“I’ve been at Reading for the last 17 years so I know them like the back of my hand, who I can shout at, who I can’t shout at.”

Another question out of the blue: “I was really close to the penalty, was I?”

Another resounding yes, while she had previously mentioned that it wasn’t a penalty.

“That’s football isn’t it. Was ours a penalty?”

Yes. 

reading-v-manchester-city-fa-womens-super-league-madejski-stadium In action for Reading recently. Source: PA

Overall, Moloney spoke glowingly of her team’s performance against the world’s second-ranked nation, and she’s looking forward to the future.

Both the teams’, and her own. No doubt both will be bright.

“Mistakes happen in football and we’ve to get on with it. Katie [McCabe] got around the girls in the dressing-room and said that this was just the start. Vera said the same, it’s just the start.

“We’ve got great young players, others like Megan Connolly, Megan Campbell and Leanne Kiernan not here because of injury. Ellen [Molloy] came on and didn’t look out of place and she’ll be a phenomenal player throughout the years in this team. The future is bright.”

Likewise for her. For club and for country. The aim is to push on now.

“Every time I get called in, it’s the best feeling and all the girls in my team are buzzing for me. Obviously, I didn’t make the squad for the last Germany game. Ultimately after that, I just trained as hard as I could and did everything extra I could do to make sure I was in the Ukraine camp.

“I’ve played tonight, and want to build on that. Hopefully we can get a few games in at the start of next year, and go from there.”

Screenshot 2020-11-24 at 9.04.07 AM

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Emma Duffy

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