Something has been missing in the opening few weeks of the Women’s Football season: Ciara Grant.
The Waterford native, capped 102 times by the Republic of Ireland, has left the stage with trademark grace. So long a key figure with Arsenal during a remarkable, trophy laden career, Grant featured in a Reading shirt in 2014.
Now, though, Grant’s duties are strictly centred on off the pitch matters. “I’ve quietly retired,” the popular Grant told The Irish Post in typically understated fashion.
“A couple of years ago when I retired from the Irish team I got a good send off, but I’ve slowly taken a step back from the club game now. I’m not one for the limelight, but I have left quietly - I’m very happy with how my career went.” Grant has every reason to be because her sporting story is truly admirable.
Having featured for Waterford outfit Benfica Grant subsequently had a stint with St Patrick’s Athletic prior to a 1998 move to the Gunners, where extensive glory and honours followed. Grant’s medal haul includes 9 Premier League titles, 7 FA Cups, 6 League Cups, and a UEFA Cup.
“I had a great time at Arsenal,” Grant admits. “The year I left about seven others went at the same time. We all went our own ways. For me I knew my career was coming to an end; that I would retire shortly after. Some of the other girls were picked up by clubs.
“There will always be a bit of Arsenal in my heart. Emma Byrne, my Irish roommate for 10 years, is still there. I check Arsenal’s result every week. I will always do that.
“We probably had the best Arsenal Ladies team over-the likes of Kelly Smith and Jane Ludlow. It was a fantastic team to be a part of.”
Grant outlines why Arsenal aren’t as dominant now. “When a good few players left all at once I think that the club was affected. They had a bit of a dip last season, but they’ve lots of youngsters coming through the Centre of Excellence.
“The standard is better overall. One time Arsenal were way ahead of every other club and they could offer more money. Now I think there is more money across the board so others can afford top players. That is one of the reasons why every team in the WSL has good players.”
Though not playing anymore Grant is occupying a central role for Reading, where she works as club secretary. “I’m still very much involved with Reading working as club secretary. I think I would find it harder if I wasn’t involved. Working for the club is great; I still go to training to watch, and I’m around on matchdays too. Maybe in a way that has helped me. The only thing I don’t do is play a game on a Sunday.
“As club secretary I organise fixtures, hotel, and coaches. Things like that always need to be sorted out. I worked with Arsenal for 16 or 17 years doing similar things.
“When my time was coming to an end at Arsenal I knew it would be good to have a complete change. The staff and everyone at Reading have been brilliant. Paddy Casey works for the Academy; he is from Waterford too. I speak to him quite a bit.”
With attendances rising and interest increasing Grant is enthusiastic about how the revamped Leagues are developing. “The standard is a lot higher compared to years ago. The attendances are going up. When people go to games they go they are surprised by the standard. I’ve noticed that people then come back to see games again-which goes to show that the standard is good.
“More money is being pumped into the game too which obviously is a help. Some of the England internationals are on central contracts getting about £20,000 a year which is enticing too.
“It would be nice to turn the clock back a few years, but I’ve enjoyed a great career. I’ve had a good innings; I’ve played for a fantastic club at Arsenal winning lots of medals. I played with Ireland too so there isn’t really a lot more I can ask for.”
The FAI are encouraged by how the Women’s game is growing in Ireland, and Grant is optimistic about this. “In Ireland I feel that the standard can only get better. I’m not home that much so I don’t know an awful lot about the National League there, but I know some of the girls I played with on the international team are involved.
“I feel that the FAI are going the right way about doing things. More youngsters are playing compared to when I was starting out which can only be a good thing. The league seems to be good there now and it will get even better.”