Greener pastures: Surprises abound for Marie Hourihan at Braga

Republic of Ireland goalkeeper enjoying the professionalism of the set-up in Portugal

 

Name: Marie Hourihan

DOB: March 3rd, 1988

Club: SC Braga

Country: Portugal

Hometown: Arigna, Roscommon*

Position: Goalkeeper

*Marie Hourihan was born and grew up in England

It was getting to the business end of last season when contact was initially made. Marie Hourihan had been juggling responsibilities between club and country before her agent approached hoping to have a word in her ear. Another club were showing interest and they had started to put the wheels in motion.

Moving to the new club was always going to be quite the leap from life at Brighton, given the club team in question was SC Braga, the venerable outfit from northern Portugal.

Was she interested?

“In all honesty I didn’t even realise the league was professional in Portugal,” she admits. And so she only tentatively approached the offer, continuing to focus on her ongoing responsibilities in the WSL (Women’s Super League) and with the Republic of Ireland national side.

But the Portuguese outfit were serious in their pursuit of the English-born Irish goalkeeper, and so Hourihan travelled to the Iberian Peninsula, to suss out the area, to find out whether she could set up a life in the place. As it turned out, she was pleasantly surprised by what her suitors had to offer.

“I’d obviously heard of Sporting Lisbon and Benfica and the teams with bigger names, and I knew that Braga had been quite successful years ago but I didn’t know a lot about their women’s team.

“I started having dialogue and speaking with the club and then obviously the manager, and I managed to come and see them play against Sporting Lisbon. I had been offered another contract at Brighton but I’ve always, in my own mind, wanted to play abroad. I wanted to have that experience, not just from a football point of view. I wanted the life experience – learning another language, embracing a different way of living.”

The willingness was there to try something different on Hourihan’s part, but she remains a consummate professional and the status of the club alone wasn’t going to sway her in one direction or the other. As soon as she arrived in Portugal however, it was clear that they were more than capable of backing up their reputation.

After all, the club were en route to winning the league title and qualifying for the Champions League. With even a hint of an ambitious streak, that’s an offer rather difficult to resist.

"When I came over and saw everything I was quite impressed with the set-up. From that point on it settled in my mind that this was the route I was going to go down.

“There’s aspirations at the club to try and progress, and break into the upper echelons in the European standings. I thought, why not go and embrace it – give it a go.”

Level playing field

Learning the language has taken time, and it remains a work in progress, but the overall experience has been positive thus far. The club’s women’s team play at the men’s former stadium, though they retain access to academy facilities and, for Champions League fixtures, access to the Estádio Municipal de Braga, one of the world’s most iconic football venues given it’s been built into the cliff of a quarry.

“One of the things I was so impressed by coming over was the level playing field that was supplied to the women’s team. I have to say, it’s been a breath of fresh air.

“Travelling to away games we can use the men’s coach. You’re treated equally and, again, as the progression of the women’s game has been fantastic you do see instances where it’s only a work in progress at a lot of clubs.”

The business end of the season is now, once again, approaching, but Hourihan is content with her current circumstances. She’ll be forced to deal with an element of juggling between club and international duties over the coming months, as was the case with Brighton, but the extra few hours on an airplane is a small sacrifice for the life she has been granted by Braga.

Despite her location the Irish backroom team have continued to monitor their number one net-minder, even visiting her last autumn in her new home. And when she does touch down back in Ireland, usually for international ties, the strong Irish connections means, despite growing up across the Irish Sea, every home game witnesses a mini invasion from the local clan.

“I had always said growing up that I would love to play for Ireland. And I honestly didn’t think it was a possibility. So for me now, it’s an honour and a pleasure every single time and it’s something that I’ll always, always appreciate.

“But I’ve really enjoyed the challenge of living in another country. You can get accustomed to doing the same thing, day in and day out, if you’re living in the same country.

“It’s definitely been rewarding for me and in my mind I’d definitely be willing to carry on playing abroad.”

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