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'At this stage of my career, I've got to take a step out of my comfort zone and do something different'

Ireland’s London-born goalkeeper Marie Hourihan on her recent move to Portugal and life in the Girls in Green set-up.

Ireland goalkeeper Marie Hourihan at WNT training this morning.
Ireland goalkeeper Marie Hourihan at WNT training this morning.
Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

IT MAY HAVE flew a little under the radar at the time, but Ireland’s first-choice goalkeeper Marie Hourihan found a new home in Portugal earlier this summer.

After a Women’s Super League career which saw her spend time at Birmingham City, Chelsea, Manchester City and most recently Brighton & Hove Albion, the 31-year-old shot-stopper signed for Portuguese champions SC Braga in July.

Broadening her horizons on the continent is something London-born Hourihan had always wanted to do, so when the club approached her and the opportunity arose, it was one she grabbed with both hands.

The move was important to her, and the chance to experience something different one she couldn’t turn down.

“I had always wanted to play abroad,” she explains to The42, “and then when the opportunity came up it was just something at the stage of my career that I’m at now… I’ve got to embrace it, try it, take a step out of my comfort zone and do something different.

It’s been a complete culture change, a different experience, climate, language; everything. I’m just really enjoying it, embracing it.

“We had Champions League qualifiers two weeks ago which we got through. We’ve got a lot of things to look forward to. A nice tie against PSG; a lot of football to look forward to.”

So far, so good at Braga, who won the top-tier Campeonato Nacional de Futebol Feminino for the first time last season. But the adjustment wasn’t the smoothest at first, she concedes. As expected, to be fair.

“When you go over there, you’re involved in conversations, they’re talking in another language and you’re going, ‘Oh, I don’t really 100% know what’s going on,’” Hourihan continues.

It’s been a good test for me to be able to get over these problems and issues, and embrace the whole lifestyle. Embracing the way they train, their mentality towards their football, it’s just been a good experience for me so far.”

The language barrier is definitely a big change, that’s for sure though.

How’s the Portuguese coming along, so?

That question brings a giggle.

soccer-aug-03-womens-usa-v-ireland Facing USA earlier this month. Source: Brian Rothmuller

“It’s just sort of pigeon Portuguese at the moment,” she grins. “The sentences are coming. I have to say they’ve been really good in helping me with lessons and transitioning.

“A lot of them do speak English but when you’re in another country you want to try as best as you can to learn the language. That’s something that’s still on the high-priority list for me.”

Like many of the players, Hourihan’s manager has English but he primarily speaks Portuguese. At the end of his interactions, he’ll ask if she understands and Hourihan sheepishly nods and plays along.

“I’m picking up words and going, ‘Yeah, I think so.’ When I’m coming up with a completely different thing on the training pitch, he’s like ‘You didn’t really understand, did you?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah I did… that’s not what you meant, no?’ Ireland’s number one laughs.

In general, the Portuguese have quite a bit of English so that’s helpful as well. Overall, I’ve been there maybe two months now so I do feel a lot more comfortable with it.

Hourihan, who declared for Ireland in 2017 under Colin Bell, and whose four grandparents are from Cork and Roscommon, believes that it’s important for players to be plying their trade overseas. 

It brings the game on here, and helps the Girls In Green’s senior side excel more and more on the biggest stage as they go in search of a coveted spot at a first-ever major tournament, with Euro 2021 qualifiers kicking off next week.

“I think within Ireland itself, the quality and standard of football and the level of professionalism has been growing. When girls are going away and experiencing the professional culture, they bring that back.

When we come back, we want young girls in Ireland to aspire to be professional footballers. Hopefully, eventually, that will happen in Ireland.

“At the moment it’s not the case but I think the progression that the country has made in women’s football in the last five to 10 years has been amazing.”

Even in the relatively short time since she’s been in the set-up filling Emma Byrne’s sizeable gloves, Hourihan has witnessed a serious shift.

“Oh, massive,” she nods. “Complete transition and change, not just in terms of on the pitch but off the pitch stuff as well; the level of professionalism, the mentality, just general understanding of what it takes now… recovery, nutrition, everything like that.

marie-hourihan-and-louise-quinn-dejected-at-the-end-of-the-game With Louise Quinn. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

“It’s like anything; unless you’ve been exposed to it, you’re not going to know. I think with the level of exposure that these girls are getting now, the standard of players that are going to be coming through in the next five to ten years is frightening.

“The quality of the team is just going to keep going up and up.”

She mentions the word exposure; and with that comes growth. Look at the 20×20 campaign and their tagline, ‘If she can’t see it, she can’t be it’. 

Her international team-mate, Louise Quinn, is front and centre of that initiative and has spoken plenty through her related work about the importance of role models. Hourihan is well aware that as a key member of the national side, she is one of such. 

As a child, her’s were predominantly male, but she remembers looking up to Kelly Smith across the water.

“When you saw them all going to America and things, it was like, ‘That might be possible… you could be a professional’.

“There were elements of it, but obviously the day and age that we live in now, especially with social media and that, the level of exposure and coverage, that these girls are getting, you have so many examples is a good thing.”

And what’s that like from her point-of-view?

Obviously it’s a bit surreal because you don’t really see yourself on posters or anything like that,” she smiles.

“You can only think to when I was a little girl, and to have now the Katies, the Stephs, the Louises, Dianes to aspire to, to look at and think, ‘I can achieve what they’re achieving’ [is huge].

In terms of the mentality and positivity towards women’s sport overall, it’s just brilliant for the country.

Now, it’s all about building on that positivity with women’s football continuing to ride the crest of a wave off the back of this summer’s World Cup.

For Hourihan and Ireland, that starts next Tuesday at Tallaght Stadium against Montenegro.

“I think when you witness the World Cup, it just galvanises you even more to want to be at a major tournament,” she continues.

“The fact that it’s [Euro 2021], in England as well the proximity that it is to Ireland, the support that we could generate; it’s just building in our minds how much we want to get there.

But everyone’s just looking forward to getting back to Tallaght, getting in front of our home fans again and putting on a performance to kick off our campaign properly.

The lack of a permanent manager is no concern for the players, Hourihan insists like her team-mates Katie McCabe and Niamh Fahey, but a win under the watchful eye of caretaker boss and Bell’s assistant, Tom O’Connor, is hugely important. 

marie-hourihan Making a save at training this morning. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Start on a winning note, and go from there.

“Obviously with the experience of the last campaign, we know how important home games are,” she adds. “With the bigger seeds like Germany and Ukraine, we know we have to go into those games with maximum points.

We know Montenegro is going to be a really tough game, physical. We know they’re coming here looking to upset us and make it difficult for us. It’s a good way for us to kick off the campaign with this fixture.

“We’re under no illusions, this is going to be a difficult game and they’re going to cause us some problems as well. We’ve got a good few days to prepare ourselves for that so I think we’ll be in a good position to put a performance down.”

And hopefully give the crowd — which she hopes will be a sizeable one — something to cheer about.

“Yeah, to build on that World Cup momentum,” she concludes on the importance of strong home support, “we can use that within Ireland to generate a good fan base for us.

“It’s going to be so important in the home games with the Germanys, Ukraines and Greece coming to town as well. We’re going to need anything that’s going to benefit us — the support, and everything that that generates is all going to work in our favour.

If we can start with a good performance on Tuesday and get as many as we can to maintain that for the future home games, it’s only going to be a good thing.

Onwards and upwards, so.

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Emma Duffy

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