Erin Molan: ‘Marriage is the last thing on our minds’
Erin Molan will never forget her very first day working at the Nine Network. As she sat in the newsroom, intimidated by the powerful environment, a young reporter who was doing her first live cross came up on the television screen.
"Two of the big dogs in the newsroom were watching and when she finished, one said, 'That was great,' and the other said, 'That was crap,' at exactly the same time," recalls Molan.
"They were both smart, impressive executives, but they had opposing views. I always think about it because one person's opinion doesn't define you. It's not an accurate representation of who you are and what you can do."
A decade on from that nerve-racking first day, Molan may be one of the network's most prized and versatile hosts, yet barely weeks pass where her work or private life don't generate a raft of polarising opinions.
In the first few months of this year, she hosted the Australian Open, the Women's T20 World Cup and the Indigenous All-Stars match, but as she prepares for the belated return of the NRL season, she's once again the subject of speculation.
This time it was rumours she'd split from her fiance, Sean Ogilvy, after she commented on a footy player's recent engagement.
"Ah, to be young and in love again, wouldn't that be nice," she told viewers in her relaxed style, prompting questions as to whether her own romance was in trouble.
"Every relationship has its ups and downs, but we're great," she tells Stellar, somewhat perplexed by the constant interest.
"We've got a great relationship, a great family and a great little girl. I don't post pictures of Sean because he's a fairly private person and that's not the way we show affection, or the way we are committed to each other."
The most feasible explanation for the fascination with Molan's life is that she's a glamorous and animated presence in what has previously been a man's world.
She can expertly talk about players, statistics and predictions along with the best of them, but thanks to her former role on NRL's The Footy Show, and a willingness to have both a viewpoint and a laugh, she's considered a "personality".
As such, everything from her working relationship with fellow Nine host Andrew Johns to her various promotions, a recent broken arm, and the decision not to wear her engagement ring are grounds for scrutiny.
She tries not to take it personally, even though it is deeply personal.
"I've got enough perspective not to moan about another bloody article about my love life or me not getting along with a colleague," she says.
"The trolling used to upset me, but now I don't give a tinker's cuss. I've grown up a lot and learnt a lot about myself and how the world works.
"I'm not going to complain because there are people around with real problems, and here I am doing a job I love and making a good living. I'm very far from perfect - but I'm very real."
Molan is chatting to Stellar from the home she shares with Ogilvy, having just dropped off their 23-month-old daughter, Eliza, at daycare.
Midway through our interview, her police officer fiance walks in to ask if she'd like a glass of water and after accepting, she insists he comes back into the room.
"Can you kiss me before you go? And make it a big 'mwah' sound," she says mischievously.
As for her much-discussed engagement ring, Molan recently washed it and considered wearing it on television that night, but knew it would prompt another story.
"It's such a beautiful ring, but it's quite high and it scratches Eliza when I'm changing her nappy. Maybe I'll wear it again when she's potty-trained."
For now, though, she's preparing for the start of the footy season on May 28 and predicts the delay caused by COVID-19 will only intensify enthusiasm for the game.
"There's something really special about the way Australians embrace sport, and being able to watch your team on a Friday night or a Sunday afternoon will bring a bit of normality to a situation we know is incredibly far from normal."
While the delayed season gave her more time with her daughter, she also did some research, discovering that rugby league continued throughout wartime, the Spanish flu and the Great Depression.
"The players had jobs, so during the war they had to train at night in the dark because they were worried about being bombed," she relays.
"Also, the Roosters had to play in light blue rather than dark blue because all the dark dye was being used for the military."
Digging up such details is classic Molan. From her first job working in the speechwriting department for the Governor-general's office, through to her years in regional television and now various roles at the Nine Network and on radio, going the extra mile has been her modus operandi.
Colleagues concur she'd always seek advice, scribbling suggestions on Post-it notes which she'd stick to her computer screen. One tip was from the legendary Ken Sutcliffe.
"Write to your pictures," he'd told her when she struggled with her scripts.
As she often tells kids dreaming of a career in journalism, she persevered despite receiving 88 rejection letters from multiple media companies.
"I was told my voice wasn't good enough, or my look wasn't right, or my writing wasn't strong enough. But I was always willing to use rejection to drive me to be better. I had to build a fair bit of resilience, which has served me well in later years."
But if it took several knock-backs to break into the male-dominated world of sports journalism, Molan insists being a woman has opened more doors than it closed.
"When I got my first opportunity to do an injury report on The Footy Show, there were six or seven blokes who had more knowledge, had been covering it for longer and probably deserved it more than I did, but because I was there and I was capable, I got the opportunity," she says.
"I don't see myself as a victim because being female has actually helped my career. The players are incredible, 99.9 per cent of them have always treated me with utmost respect, as have my colleagues.
"Of course, there are still people who think a woman who has never played the game shouldn't be hosting a panel or broadcast, but I don't know where they're going to find a match to watch because almost all of them are now hosted by women."
The second of four children, Molan had a peripatetic upbringing, attending 16 different schools, as her father Jim, a former major general in the Australian Army and now NSW senator, moved from posting to posting.
While she's in awe of her father's strength and morals, it's her mum, Anne, she says "is the most impressive of us all".
If Molan's desire to be a journalist was driven by living in Indonesia under the Suharto regime and the conflict and poverty she witnessed, her love of league was fostered during stints in Canberra where she became a firm Raiders fan.
Being a part of The Footy Show was a childhood dream, so she was thrilled when she got a spot on the program in 2012.
"It was the one thing I'd wanted to do my whole life, and I'd worked so hard to get there, so I was absolutely chuffed," she recalls.
What she wasn't prepared for was the pummelling on Twitter, but when she phoned her father, he was far from sympathetic.
"I remember him saying, 'Have you been shot at by the infidel in Iraq? No, so toughen the f*ck up. Who cares?'"
While the criticism in those early days was tough, it was nothing compared to the show ending in 2018, a year after Molan had taken over as host and just a few months after Eliza's birth.
At the time, she thought it was career-ending, but others in the industry gave her some perspective.
"Larry Emdur sent me a lovely email saying, 'I'm the most-sacked host on Australian television and look where I am now'," she recalls.
Molan barely drew breath before she was thrown into a fresh fracas late last year when league legend Andrew Johns reportedly refused to work with her.
While colleagues, including Beau Ryan and Karl Stefanovic, were quick to speak out in support of her talent and work ethic, the episode took its toll with the host breaking down in tears during a radio interview.
Months on, her remarks are diplomatic.
"Andrew Johns is an Immortal and he sees things in our game that no-one else can see," she says.
"I have so much respect for him, as I do all the guys I work alongside."
Such is her closeness to her colleagues that Molan and Ogilvy were holidaying with commentator Darryl "The Big Marn" Brohman and his wife in 2017 when she discovered she was pregnant.
"I wasn't going to get married and not have champagne, so we postponed it," she says.
"Now it's the last thing on our minds, but I think we'll get married. I'd like the same last name as my daughter."
Despite previous relationships with sportsmen, the host always thought she'd be with someone who worked in service.
She's also pleased Ogilvy, 44, is eight years her senior.
"I had to get someone older so he'd never have to upgrade me. I'd always be younger and hotter," she laughs, adding that her fiance is a "brilliant" dad.
But if she's attracted to the nobility and bravery of a partner in uniform, the recent death of four police officers in an horrific accident in Victoria hit her hard.
"I feel things quite deeply anyway, but that made me feel physically ill," she says, tears welling.
"I'm heartbroken for those four families, and I'm one of the thousands who send off a loved one every day to a job that has dangers and from which they might not come home. For my little girl, the most exciting part of her day is when her dad comes home."
Molan has also used her status within sport to highlight the problem of domestic violence and recently fronted the powerful Enough Is Enough campaign.
"It's important people understand what it's like to be in that situation and not be able to get out of it. It's something far too many are dying from," she says.
Having Eliza has only made her more committed to bring about change.
"She is the best thing that's ever happened to me," she says.
"She's my most important job times a million. She's perspective, and she is the reason I fight for things and stand up for things and care more than I ever have."
That being said, she doesn't want their family life to sound perfect.
"Don't get me wrong, she still sleeps in our bed and wakes up all through the night. She's cheeky and stubborn, 'no' is her favourite word and she won't eat anything at the moment except tinned spaghetti. But life wouldn't be worth it without her. She's everything."
* For more features, go to stellarmag.com.au
Originally published as Erin Molan: 'Marriage is the last thing on our minds'