Moloney, Brosnan and Walsh at training in Brisbane last weekend. Ryan Byrne/INPHO
safe pair of hands

Ireland's goalkeeping union at the World Cup: 'The details make the difference'

Courtney Brosnan, Grace Moloney, Megan Walsh and Jan Willem van Ede on life between the posts.

AS THE IRELAND team bus moved through the streets of Glasgow en route to their historic World Cup play-off last October, Courtney Brosnan was fixated on her phone.

Katie McCabe brilliantly tells the story. The Ireland captain was sitting the middle seat at the back of the bus when she got a glimpse of Brosnan’s screen.

“I just thought, ‘Jesus, she’s f**king prepared tonight,’” McCabe remembers.

She was studying Caroline Weir penalties. 

When they conceded a spot kick and Real Madrid star Weir stepped up in the 13th minute at Hampden Park, McCabe was certain Brosnan had it covered. The Ireland goalkeeper took a skip to her left and dived, parrying Weir’s effort away.

One needs little reminder of what happened thereafter.

Brosnan smiles now, just happy to have had her homework done and know exactly where Weir was going.

“It’s so easy to sit there and watch a five minute video of penalties,” she tells The 42.

“The information that’s giving you is invaluable. I’m glad I was watching the video, and it helped me on the night.

“There’s no pressure on the goalkeeper. The expectations are that they [the kicker] should score. That’s a unique position to be in. It kind of makes you rise to the challenge and say you want to do this. You don’t want to shy away from those moments.”

courtney-brosnan-saves-the-penalty-of-caroline-weir Brosnan's penalty save from Weir paved the way for Ireland's World Cup qualification. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Analysis is key, Ireland goalkeeping coach Jan Willem van Ede explains.

Nothing is coincidental — or was about that penalty save at Hampden.

“We showed a couple of clips to the goalkeepers and we knew more or less 100% that she would go in that corner. And just before, I also showed her that in a penalty you don’t have to catch it, you have to make yourself as big as possible.

“I hear people say that if you have penalty shootouts, it’s a gamble. I don’t believe in that. You really can train that kind of session.”

Van Ede, who went to school with Vera Pauw and has been a trusted confidant through the years, knew Brosnan could be Ireland’s number one early on in their tenure. Marie Hourihan had taken over from the legendary Emma Byrne and Van Ede didn’t want to change too much, too soon, but he saw something in the US-born shot-stopper.

“After one training session I said to Vera, ‘For me, at this moment, I see the most potential in Courtney’. She has to do it all by herself of course. As a coach you can help but, for us, sometimes it’s difficult to help because you don’t have that much time.

“I cannot change here in a couple of days the style of a goalkeeper. What you need is something that suits your playing style. She made great improvements. It started in Sweden with the draw.

“I am not looking only to the saves they make, it’s more how they appear on the pitch and you feel that they trust each other. That is so important, that there is a good relationship between the players and your goalkeeper. Courtney has made really great development and it is really great to have such a reliable goalkeeper.”

Her journey hasn’t exactly been straightforward, between high-profile errors like the own goal in Kiev and limited club minutes, but Brosnan is a real pillar for Ireland now.

In her youth, she played both in goal and outfield. Her father, Sean, encouraged her down the goalkeeping route as she shone at basketball. Dribbling, shooting, hand eye co-ordination; it all pointed towards one position in football.

jan-willem-van-ede Ireland goalkeeping coach Jan Willem van Ede: "Courtney has made really great development." Ben Brady / INPHO Ben Brady / INPHO / INPHO

While others may not have been best pleased at that age, Brosnan was delighted.

“I just loved it. I could have been sitting on the bench and never playing and I just absolutely loved being part of the team and being there with everyone. Just loved everything about it.”

Grace Moloney and Megan Walsh are two of Ireland’s other goalkeepers.

Walsh wasn’t just as enthused about it all as Brosnan. Her dad was a goalkeeper, as was her great-uncle, and she initially went in nets to improve her brother’s shooting.

“I think I refused to dive ’til I was 12 or 13! And I don’t think I like diving really that much now. I prefer to move my feet still.”

“Of course she doesn’t,” Brosnan laughs.

Moloney, meanwhile, reckons she always wanted to be a keeper. Goalkeeping didn’t exactly run in the family; Grace’s dad Bill and his brothers were defenders, but the Slough native found her own path.

“My dad would go and find me a goalkeeper coach outside the club team that would do the specific technical stuff and everything like that. To learn, I think you have to do that as well as the club training.

“I always just remember when I was younger, I could never, ever dive to my right so I’d always like try and run to my right and then dive back to my left so I just never had to dive to my right. That always took a few years for me to get into a good habit of being able to go that way.”

grace-moloney Moloney: "When I was younger, I could never, ever dive to my right." Bryan Keane / INPHO Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

The technical side of goalkeeping is something all three thrive speaking about. It’s all they know, and their passion shines through with each and every word.

Brosnan, in particular.

“When you speak to goalkeepers more than other players, you just realise how much goes into it, how much is in those fine details and those inches of difference. I think that fits my personality and I enjoy that in training every day and just continuing to improve and be the best version of me.

“It’s obviously super unique in terms of what it offers. You could be standing around and it could be one moment that is the difference.

“I love the position, I think it’s unbelievable and I think it’s really special to have that side of the sport as well.

“I also love being able to inspire people to want to be goalkeepers. It wasn’t that glamorous growing up, everyone wants to be the Katie McCabe scoring the goals and everything like that. But to me, even if one girl says, ‘I want to play in the net,’ I think that’s really cool.”

What about likes and dislikes?

“I like a good smash,” says Moloney. “When someone’s running at me, I just love to meet them.”

Like that Sam Kerr moment when the Australian superstar first joined Chelsea?

Her smile says it all. “Something like that.”

courtney-brosnan-with-her-father-sean-after-the-game Courtney Brosnan with her father Sean after Ireland's friendly against the USA earlier this year. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

“High balls and crossing and stuff is a real weakness, if you like, in the women’s game, I think Courtney is actually exceptional at it. She’s one of the best I’ve actually seen at it.

“I definitely think that’s a massive area in the women’s game – don’t get me wrong, I think goalkeeping as well as the women’s game is going from strength to strength, but I still think that’s a massive thing. The corners, the free-kicks, just being able to come and claim them is something the men have massively over the women still.”

Brosnan recognises that as among her strengths, and echoes Moloney’s sentiments.

“It’s important in the women’s game because you don’t always see goalkeepers coming for crosses and being commanding. I think that’s something that I’ve really wanted to have as part of my game and continue to work on that.

“Being at Everton, I’ve really gotten to work on playing out from the back and using my feet more, valuing possession and keeping possession. I think there’s always things to improve.

“I love the training and the technical side of it. I do like that it’s all in the details and the details is what makes the difference. It’s always evolving.

“And I love that position can be so different. You can have me, you can have Grace and you can have Megan Walsh and we’ll all play differently and see things differently. We’re all training but we’re bringing our own style and uniqueness to the position. I think that’s what makes it so special.

“What do I not like?… I don’t like that other people don’t give goalkeepers credit sometimes. No one wants to talk about the goalkeeper, I wish that people paid a bit more attention maybe.”

courtney-brosnan-and-megan-walsh Brosnan and Walsh: "We want Courtney to be the best prepared that she can." Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Brosnan and Moloney both enjoy being vocal too, and commanding their boxes. The latter admits she has had to improve on her tone, staying calmer at times with encouragement and positivity. “I feel like the more I talk to them, the more like I can help them, the less I have to do.”

All three speak glowingly of one another, and along with training player Sophie Whitehouse and others ‘keepers who have been in and around the squad like Naoisha McAloon, Eve Badana and Katie Keane, they’re a really tight-knit unit.

“We know Courtney’s had a class campaign and going into the World Cup now, we’ve just got to prepare her the best way that we can,” Moloney explains.

“We all want to play, but we all have the understanding as well how much of a good campaign she’s had, how quality she’s been and going into the World Cup, we want her to be the best prepared that she can.

“We’ll be pushing her all the way. At the end of the day, it’s Courtney that’s going to start and we have to put her in the best place that she can be.”

In terms of penalties and shootouts, all have pretty good form. Moloney, who has since departed Reading saved three in a shootout against Leicester City in last season’s FA Cup, while Walsh famously saved and helped her ex-club Aston Villa to League Cup glory. She had a good history in the Conti Cup, too, like Brosnan during her time at West Ham.

“I wouldn’t even say I’m mad on penalties, I just think it’s a bit of luck,” Moloney says.

“You either go the right way or you don’t. You can do as much like looking into it before. They always give it to me on the water bottle. I don’t know where she’s going. It’s just luck I think anyway.”

Walsh? “I prefer not to face them, to be honest. But you’re not expected to save it, so when you do, it’s great, isn’t it? It’s just circumstances on the day.”

And the all-important one for number one: Would Brosnan be confident if she was faced with one, or several, at the World Cup?

“You always have to be prepared. It’s a part of the game, so you have to do your best to be ready for those.”

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