|Euro 2020 qualifier: Slovakia v Wales|
|Venue: Anton Malatinský Stadium, Trnava Date: Thursday, 10 October Kick-off: 19:45 BST|
|Coverage: Live on BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru & BBC Sport website and BBC Sport app, plus live text commentary.|
As Wales approach a time of sink or swim in their bid to qualify for the 2020 European Championship, they at least now have a player who knows how to ride the waves.
Life was never a beach for Kieffer Moore – part-time days as a lifeguard were spent by the side of a pool rather than on the coast.
But that doesn’t mean the 6ft 5in 27-year-old hasn’t seen the agonising ebb and flow of football; the mix of thinking you’ve made it, only to then struggle to keep your head above water.
The Wigan Athletic striker made his Wales debut in last month’s 1-0 win over Belarus, but international football was not in his thoughts when he grafted through the amateur leagues, working and scoring his way into the professional ranks before dreams threatened to disappear quicker than they ever came.
“Surreal” is how he describes his route to this point – in Slovakia for Thursday’s key fixture in Trnava, before the squad return to Cardiff to face Croatia three days later.
It is the latest stopping point on a journey for the Torquay-born striker that has included stints in non-league and Norway before international recognition through a North Walian grandparent.
“I think my path’s very different to a lot of people, but having got to where I am, I take a lot of pride in it,” he says. “So to pull on the [Wales] jersey and walk out on to the pitch was massive for me and my family. There was a lot that led up to that moment – it was special.”
From ball-boy to Viking
As a 12-year-old ball-boy on the books of Torquay United, Moore had to look elsewhere for football when his hometown club closed its youth system.
Opportunities came with South Devon Leagues side Paignton Saints before, aged 20, he worked his way to the Conference South.
Saturday heroics for Truro City and Dorchester Town were combined with weekday duties as a lifeguard and a personal trainer, before a successful trial with Yeovil Town in 2013 prompted time in the Championship and League One.
“The non-league route is hard, it’s a bit of a grind, but I always believed that if you put that work in you get your rewards,” he says. “And I always believed I could make it.
“I worked part-time but whenever people asked me what I wanted to do with my life, I always thought deep down that I would be a footballer and I’d stop at nothing to get there. I slowly made my way up.”
Then, in Moore’s words, slowly back down again.
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Released by Yeovil, Moore moved to Norway to play for Viking but lasted just six months, struggling to make a Scandinavian gamble pay off and seeing his career suffer as a result.
Non-league called once more. While future Wales team-mates basked in the success of Euro 2016, Moore was plugging away for Forest Green Rovers – earning an England C cap in the process – and heading on loan to Torquay.
Mick McCarthy offered a way out, taking a punt to take Moore to second-tier Ipswich Town, although it was only when he moved on loan to Rotherham United in July 2017 that the mobile targetman made headlines.
“I’ve not looked back since really,” he says, “everything I do is towards the future and what I can do. I don’t think you should dwell on the past.”
His League One goals for the Millers saw Championship Barnsley snap Moore up, where he stayed until a £3m-plus move to Championship Wigan in the summer.
Attic hunts for birth certificates
That said, it took a bit of digging around family history for Moore to formally put himself into Wales manager Ryan Giggs’ thoughts. Proving his quality was one thing, proving he was qualified was another.
Despite his middle names – Roberto Francisco – the result of Italian blood somewhere in the family, Moore was always aware of his Welsh heritage through regular childhood visits to his maternal grandfather in his hometown of Llanrug, near Caernarfon.
“I told my agent but there was a lot of back and forth because we couldn’t find my grandfather’s birth certificate,” Moore explains.
“My mum was searching everywhere, scrambling around the attic, everywhere, the whole family looking for it.
“We had to send for a copy but we had to get more information and there was a lot of paperwork involved.
“It took a good part of a year to eventually find him in the system and then things escalated. It was perhaps another six months before I got a call-up but I was being told there were people from the Wales set up watching me at games so the excitement was building.
“All I could do was perform and try to take my chance when I got it.”
A call-up for the summer training camps was followed by his debut against Belarus, Giggs voicing after the friendly victory how pleased he was with Moore’s first outing – though the forward does admit he may need to ask his “particularly proud” grandfather with help on the national anthem.
He hopes there will be opportunities to line up and show improvement, insisting it’s only when he’s out of the camp does he stop and let a wave of “surrealism” wash over him.
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“It’s when you step back and think ‘wow’, that’s Gareth Bale, someone who’s done what he has in the game,” Moore says of playing and training alongside the Real Madrid superstar, going back to that point of his path being different than most.
“I’ve tried to take in every moment and I’ve loved every minute,” he adds. “It’s still all very new to me but I want to push on now, get more appearances, score goals. I’m humbled by the opportunity but I think I can add something to this team.”
And, with Wales still waiting to click under Giggs in this campaign, he could well get his chance and perhaps add to his story in the process.
Buoyed by belief, there may yet be more to come from the former lifeguard who finds himself in international waters.
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