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Brendan's brilliant voyage... and it's not finished yet

Brendan Moloney's professional football career was never dull and brought the Beaufort man a lot of success, writes Damian Stack

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Kerry Under 17 manager and former professional footballer Brendan Moloney pictured last week at the famous Gap of Dunloe. Photo by Michelle Cooper Galvin

Kerry Under 17 manager and former professional footballer Brendan Moloney pictured last week at the famous Gap of Dunloe. Photo by Michelle Cooper Galvin

Kerry Under 17 manager and former professional footballer Brendan Moloney pictured last week at the famous Gap of Dunloe. Photo by Michelle Cooper Galvin

kerryman

You have to want it, really want it, and even then wanting it isn't enough. Not nearly enough. Beyond talent, you have to have that iron will. You have to have that conviction. You have to believe. You have to believe in yourself. You have to put everything on the line and that's even just to get to the point where it might - might - be possible.

It's what leads a young lad from Beaufort, plying his trade underage with Killarney Athletic, to decide at age fifteen to make the move to playing his football in Dublin. It was the first of many leaps of faith over the course of a long and varied career.

Early every Saturday morning his parents would drop him off at Killarney Station. Three-and-a-half hours later he'd arrive in Heuston, where he'd be collected and taken training with Belvedere Football Club, a famed nursery on Dublin's northside.

Brendan Moloney knew that's where he needed to be if he ever hoped to make it. That's where he had to be if he ever hoped to be spotted like Mark Kennedy, Wes Hoolahan or any of the other famous alumni of Belvedere FC had been over the years.

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The chances of getting scouted in the Kingdom were slim to none. In the Dublin & District Schoolboy League if you had talent - if you made a splash - you'd been seen. Playing knowing that was a hell of a lot of pressure for a young man, still just a kid really.

Moloney, though, seemed to thrive under it. The schoolboy club would tell him when somebody was there to have a look at him. Pressure notched up that little bit more. Eventually they told him that an English side wanted him over for a week's trial. More pressure, higher stakes.

He travelled alone. An experience his weekends in Dublin prepared him for somewhat. The training and trial games went well. Still, though, when the Nottingham Forest youth coaches sat him down afterwards there had to have been a moment or two's doubt, of fear even.

When they told him they'd like to see him again in a month or two he knew: they were interested. A weight lifted. His journey towards a professional career, the dream driving everything he did, could begin, but that's all it was: a beginning.

The hard work was just getting started.

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Even though Moloney never had any doubts about signing on the dotted line, even though it's what he always wanted, the first few months in Nottingham were always likely to prove difficult if not a little daunting.

"I settled in after a while," he says.

"Obviously the first while was very tough. You're away from home and your family, so it is tough in the first five or six months, but after a while, as I always say, it just becomes the norm then. You just get used to it.

"The first year I did fairly okay, just getting used to everything. The second year then I started to make quite big strides. I found myself progressing quite quick. I was captain of the Youth team and got Young Player of the Year.

"I really started progressing quite quickly and I signed a new deal half way through that year and just went from there really."

The then Forest manager Colin Calderwood liked what he saw in the young Kerry man and it wasn't long before he was making first-team squads. Indeed Moloney was just 18 when he made his debut for the two-time European champions off the bench, replacing Kris Commons in the dying seconds of a 1-0 home victory against Gillingham in League One on St Patrick's Day, 2007.

Moloney's first start came at the start of the following season against Bournemouth.

"I was in a few squads and things like that and your first start is always a big occasion really," the full-back says.

"I got the opportunity to start, especially for a club like Nottingham Forest as well - a big club. It was a dream come through really to get my first start in the Football League."

At the end of the year Forest were promoted back to the Championship, but Moloney doesn't really see it as his promotion, having only featured in a handful of games. Still, though, it brought Forest and Moloney to another level. The Championship then, as now, was an insanely competitive division - "it's like a mini-Premiership really," Moloney explains.

The standards required to make it as a Championship footballer are exacting and in Forest's first year back in the second tier the boy from Beaufort made twelve appearances. No mean achievement for a 19-year-old.

Despite that brilliant start to his Forest career, there was always a sense that Moloney was chasing his tail a little bit at the City Ground. Not because he wasn't playing well or putting in the commitment or anything like that, simply because of the number of managerial changes that happened during his six years at the club as a senior player. This was not the Forest of Brian Clough's heyday, after all, but a club that had struggled since falling out of the top flight.

"That's the one disappointing thing really, the amount of managers I had," Moloney says of his six different bosses in six seasons.

"It was madness like. It's hard for any player when managers are coming and going, whether you're an experienced player or a young player coming through the youth set-up. Managers have their own ideas, their own approach that they like to have, and that slows down the progression of the club as well, changing managers.

"The owners wanted their own coaches in and it was just a mad situation really. Still, the club got into the play-offs twice in the Championship. The elements were there, but it was very tough."

After Calderwood had taken that initial shine to him, Billy Davies came in and it took six months for the right full-back to get back to the place he was under the old regime.

Loans spells here and there are part and parcel of a young player's development. Moloney spent time at Chesterfield and Rushden and Diamonds, but his stint at Notts County was one of the more interesting of his entire career. A Middle Eastern consortium had bought the club that summer, in 2009, but the reality proved more chaotic than the fans would have hoped for.

"Yeah, Notts County was interesting in every sense," he says.

"I was there for six months, but January came and I couldn't extend the loan because of a transfer embargo. The club had been taken-over by these so-called millionaires and Sven Goran Eriksson was involved [as director of football]. They brought players to the club like Kasper Schmeichel and Sol Campbell."

While the new ownership promised much, Moloney says "it turned out they had nothing really." Former England defender Campbell quit the Magpies after only one game, and their Irish recruit didn't have the option of staying for too long.

"I came at the start of the season and after that six months it would have been ideal to extend it, but it just wasn't possible with the transfer embargo. I went back to Forest then in January and got a loan move to Scunthorpe, which worked out quite well because they were in the Championship and that was my first loan move to a Championship club."

Probably the high point of Moloney's Forest career was 2010-11 season, when under Davies he started both Championship play-off semi-final matches against Brendan Rodgers Swansea City. Forest were the dominant team in the first leg at home in front to close to 30,000 supporters, but didn't score.

"They beat us 3-1," Moloney says.

"It was disappointing really, but in a play-off anything can happen like. The Championship play-offs are absolutely huge. The financial implications for the club are huge.

"They're a great game to play in, but when they don't go your way the lows are low. Then the following year there was more managerial changes. The club never got the chance again since that year. That's football. There's so much turnover of players and managers that you don't make too many friends in football because the turnover of players is huge.

"Every transfer window there's always two or three footballers coming in. It's just one of those things."

After Steve McCaren had a brief spell in the Forest hot seat, Seán O'Driscoll came on board and again things were looking really positive at Forest for Moloney as 2012 was drawing to a close. Hours after a win over Leeds that left Forest eighth, however, O'Driscoll - a former Republic of Ireland international - was sacked by his club's new Kuwaiti owners.

"I'd six months left in my contract," Moloney explains.

"Seán O'Driscoll got sacked on New Year's Day and Alex McLeish was appointed. I was getting on really well with Seán O'Driscoll. He'd a great time for me and a few weeks after he got sacked, towards the end of January, he got the Bristol City job. He asked me did I want to go down there and I was only mad to join up with him.

"I spoke to Alex McLeish and I said 'my contact's up in six months time and I've an opportunity to go to Bristol' and if I could just walk away from the six months I had left. In fairness to him, he was very understanding and a gentleman about me leaving and said 'if that's what you want to do I'm not going to stand in your way'.

"There was about three days left before the transfer window closed I went down there and we got started."

The two-season spell at Bristol with O'Driscoll was satisfying with Moloney - after playing fifty times in total for Forest - getting a twenty plus games a year for the first time in his career. Relegation in his first season there, however, was a lesson in just how brutal football can be.

"They weren't going through a good time," he explains

"They were in the relegation zone and they were six or seven points adrift of getting out of it. I think Seán O'Driscoll knew he had a tough job on his hands anyway. We gave it a good go. We went on a nice run, but the Easter period then - with two games in three days - we really needed to get four points minimum and we picked up none and that kind of really nailed it for us.

"It's not a nice feeling. It effects everyone in the club really. As I say, the highs are high and the lows are low. You have to keep level-headed through it all and not get too down about things and not get carried away with yourself."

After Bristol, there came a short-lived switch to Yeovil, but Moloney's next move, in January 2015, showed him the flip side of the yin and yang of life as a professional footballer. Signing up with Northampton Town in League Two was possibly the most rewarding period of his career.

The Cobblers were managed at the time by Chris Wilder, who's now something of a managerial superstar in the Premier League with Sheffield United.

"I thought he was great," Moloney enthuses.

"He's doing unbelievable at the moment. He did brilliantly for Northampton. He just loves to win really. I got on so well with him. I went to Northampton originally on loan and I did so well in that month, in January, that I ended up signing permanently there.

"I went from a six-month loan to a three-and-a-half year contract in the space of a couple of weeks so that was quite interesting as well. From day one really it felt good and we finished off the season strongly.

"The next season then we ended up winning the league with four or five weeks to spare and we won it by maybe ten or twelve points so it was just an unbelievable season."

Town's League Two title triumph was the undoubted high point of Moloney's time in England.

"It's unbelievable when you have the medal and the promotion to show for your career," he says.

"Some people go through their careers without a medal or a promotion at all. It doesn't mean you're a bad player, it's just that you have to be in the right place at the right time and have that bit of luck as well."

At the end of his fourth year with Northampton - by which time former Leeds and Chelsea striker Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink was manager - Moloney had had enough. He had clocked up over 100 games for the club, but persistent knee injuries were beginning to take their toll. Then aged 29, he could have soldiered on and was offered a contract, but his ambitions lay elsewhere.

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One box ticked for Moloney was to line out with the All Ireland champions. No, not the sky blues, rather his native Beaufort just months after they were crowned All Ireland junior club champions in Croke Park.

The newly retired professional footballer made a handful of appearances with his native parish in the County League last summer, but the next phase of his career meant that, as much as he enjoyed playing with the guys he grew up with, it wasn't to last.

Moloney completed the first of his coaching badges in the UK before coming back home and was now putting what he'd learned into practice with Killarney Athletic. A meeting with the Kerry District League's John O'Regan put another opportunity in his path - to manage the Kerry Under 17s in the League of Ireland.

Something had to give, and the same determination which saw the 6'1" defender sustain himself in the English league is now being channelled into his ambition to forge a top-line coaching career.

"By the time I'm into my mid to late thirties - and some people play into their mid-thirties - I want to be well into the coaching side of it and not just starting out if you know what I mean," he explains.

The Kerry Under 17 job which he assumed this year is the perfect stepping stone and proving ground for the 31-year-old.

"It was a great opportunity to do that work at a high competitive level," he says

"We'd be playing good teams and we'd be playing good clubs. It would have been good for me as well. I was really looking forward to it."

In a way it brings the Beaufort man full circle. Where he had to go to Dublin to get exposure, his young charges will get the chance to impress and get spotted playing at home for their native county.

"Yeah that's it," he says.

"There's a bigger opportunity for them there to be watched. They're going to be watched a lot more and they're going to be playing some of the best players in the country in their age-group so they'll get the opportunity to get spotted and looked at as well if that's what you're interested in.

"Like you say, when I was coming through the ranks that opportunity wasn't available so I went down a different path. Now players don't have to do that. It's on their doorstep."

As with every other walk of life, COVID-19 has put a temporary halt to his plans and those of his players. We've no doubt, however, that once the world gets back up and running again Moloney will strain every sinew to make his coaching career a success.

It's the way he's built.


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