Shelbourne’s Ciara Grant eager to break back into Ireland squad

A qualified doctor, she is targeting another league title and playing professionally

When The Irish Times last dropped in on Ciara Grant the 27 year-old Shelbourne midfielder was just settling back into things in Dublin ahead of last year's shortened season.

A qualified doctor, she had returned home to Donegal for a spell when coronavirus struck in order to work in her local community.

Seven months on, she is back in her lecturing and tutoring role at the College of Surgeons but with the new abnormal resulting in more restricted access to wards, she finds herself working on scripts with actors who help students complete their courses by playing patients. “It’s very different,” she says with a laugh.

The growth in the sport has been phenomenal over the past few years and it only seems to be going one way and that has probably stirred me on

The fact that the Women's National League season is set to run its full course this year at least means that for all the pandemic related protocols, one aspect of her day-to-day life will feel a little less disrupted. Grant previously played basketball and Gaelic football too in what was clearly a busy sporting schedule but in recent years the focus has clearly been on soccer.

She earned 14 senior caps while playing for Raheny United, then UCD, but took a step back during the tail end of her time in college to focus on getting her studies completed. Now, she admits, she would love to be involved with the Irish set up although –  as her omission on Wednesday from a 32 strong squad that includes three fellow Shelbourne midfielders underlines –  it is not entirely straightforward to break back in.

"It's disappointing not to get a call up," she says, "but I have spoken with Vera Pauw and she has told me the things that she feels I need to work on. So the work continues and I'm looking forward now to the league getting started and trying to progress my game.

“Hopefully, the training camps for international players based here and those on the fringes will become more regular, I think that would open up more of an avenue for players in the league to get back into the international squad and benefit the league by making it more competitive.”

Dual star

Standards on all fronts in the league continue although having played two years of inter-county football with Donegal, Grant says that in terms of training and resources, club soccer is “probably 10 years behind; there is no comparison... it’s like night and day.”

Shelbourne are one of the clubs working hard to progress things in the nine team Airtricity sponsored league and she says the efforts being made ahead of the new campaign have impressed her. Noel King, who she previously worked with in the underage Ireland set up, will manage the side and anything, she says, "that we have looked for has been provided".

The club will be desperate to end a run of four straight second place finishes, two of them to Wexford then two to Peamount and all tight enough to have been changed by one additional positive result against their rivals.

Grant still sounds slightly bewildered by what happened the day Peamount came to Shelbourne last year and won 5-1, although her respect for a side that probably starts the new season as slight favourites to win a third straight title is clear.

“They have a core of players that have probably been there for the best part of a decade,” she says, “and you can see that in the way they play. There’s such trust between them on the pitch, they seem to move in unison. When you watch a team like that you know that they have been playing together for years.”

Shelbourne, meanwhile, have been evolving over the seasons and should be stronger again this year. Grant was joint top scorer at the club with three others in 2020 but the addition of Saoirse Noonan, who outscored them all in a weaker Cork City side along with the return from England of Chloe Mustaki could, they hope, help them to leapfrog their cross city rivals.

"I think we were missing an all-out striker," she says. "We have a lot of kind of playmakers and fast wingers on the pitch but we maybe just missed that bit of tenacity in front of goal. When you have the likes of Elenor Ryan Doyle at Peamont and Ellen Molloy at Wexford... give them a sniff and they'll score.

"I think Saoirse is going to excel at Shelbourne, she did brilliantly last year and has settled in with us really well, Chloe is coming back from injury and she'll bring a lot to team too and then there is [goalkeeper] Amanda Budden who is tall and lithe and is really good at controlling the back line so I think Noel has been really clever in the players that he has signed for the season."

A third career league title and earning that call up are the immediate goals then but Grant is looking further afield too, at the possibility of playing professionally for a few years before settling into what she sees as a likely-long term career in general practice and sports medicine.

“I’m still trying to figure it all out really but I’m going to be a doctor for the rest of my life so I’d certainly like to keep the football going for another five or six years,” she says. “The growth in the sport has been phenomenal over the past few years and it only seems to be going one way and that has probably stirred me on.

“When I last played with the Irish senior team, back in 2015 or 2016, the ratio of the girls who were playing with professional teams was probably only around a quarter in a panel of 20 whereas now, if you look at it, it has completely reversed. So the things have been transformed in terms of opportunities and I certainly wouldn’t rule out playing overseas or a year or two if I was offered the chance.”

First up, though, is a trip on Saturday to Athlone where the pursuit of Peamount begins again in earnest.

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