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Dublin: 8°C Saturday 28 November 2020

'There's some days I still can't believe how lucky I am. It absolutely is a dream job'

Ireland striker Amber Barrett on life in Germany, her transition to professional football and the Girls In Green’s next Euro 2021 qualifier.

IT MAY BE quite some distance from her beloved Donegal, but Amber Barrett is more than happy to call German city Cologne her new home.

amber-barrett Amber Barrett. Source: Matteo Ciambelli/INPHO

The Ireland striker signed her first professional deal with FC Köln this summer, and opened a new chapter in her colourful sporting life.

Growing up, Barrett excelled at Gaelic football and athletics as well as the sport she’s making a career out of now, but when it came down to it, she went all in with soccer.

While studying at Maynooth University, the 23-year-old shot to prominence at Peamount United, where she established herself as the Women’s National League’s most lethal striker.

Parking the All-Ireland football dream proved worthwhile as she soon got the nod at international level, co-captaining Ireland at the World University Games in Taiwan and making her senior debut against Northern Ireland in September 2017.

She’s been a constant in the Girls In Green squad ever since.

Before heading to mainland Europe for a crack at the professional game, Barrett balanced football with education and she graduated from a two-year teaching Masters degree in DCU this week.

Home for a brief stint to collect the scroll and celebrate with the family, the Milford native is off once again, having met with Vera Pauw’s Ireland squad earlier this week ahead of their third Euro 2021 qualifier away to Greece.

It’s all go, the way Barrett likes it. She’s no stranger to life in the fast lane, especially not since moving her life across the continent and beginning an exciting new chapter.

imago-20190716 Barrett at her new home in Germany, FC Köln. Source: Imago/PA Images

Self-admittedly, her German is “sh**e,” but she’s working on it with her listening much better than her talking. Thankfully, that’s been the most difficult adjustment.

“In terms of me settling in and how I’m getting on over here, it’s very very good,” the Frauen-Bundesliga striker enthuses.

I’ve adapted well to training, the training load. It’s a new environment, it’s different to training a couple of times a week to training eight or nine times. The intensity level is much higher than I was probably used to.

“The players I’ve played against in the league so far — one of them I played against for Wolfsburg a couple of weeks ago, she’s up for a Ballon d’Or [Pernille Harder]. It just shows you the magnitude of players that are in this league.

“In terms of that, I think it’s going to take me a little while to get up to the level of the players that I’m playing against. But I don’t have any doubts that I’m capable of doing that.”

She did it here, she’ll do it there. 

But she is dealing with one clear frustrating. She doesn’t like to say too much, but you can sense the annoyance in her voice.

“I’m not just getting as much game time as I’d hope to have liked,” Barrett continues. She reins it in there and then, though. 

At the same time, I’m not turning negative. The manager obviously trusts what he’s doing and I trust him.

“Obviously it’s going to take me a little bit of time to get used to playing as much as the other girls. I’m going to keep working and improving every single day and hopefully then I’ll get the nod to play.”

amber-barrett-celebrates-scoring-her-sides-second-goal-with-teammates Celebrating a huge Ireland goal in April 2018. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Lack of game time from time to time aside and all things considered, it is Barrett’s dream job. Set up by former Ireland manager Colin Bell, the move to professional football will surely pay dividends under Pauw now.

Just look at last Sunday afternoon.

Barrett was facing Bayern Munich while her former side, Peamount, were in FAI Cup final action against Wexford Youths. It almost killed her to leave her beloved Greenogue outfit, but as she said in an article with The42 last week, she knew she had to put her own career first and make the move.

It’s what’s best for her, and she has absolutely no regrets. 

However hard it was to watch from afar as Peamount won the league, she wouldn’t switch places with anyone.

There’s some days I still can’t really believe how lucky I am firstly that I play for a club as big as FC Köln,” she smiles. “They’re without a doubt one of the most well known teams in Europe.

“Just the fanbase they have, the size of the club, it’s a club built majorly by volunteers. You can see that every day you’re training.

“When the men’s team train, the crowds of people that come to watch them. It’s unbelievable. It’s something I didn’t know happened in professional football.

“It’s a magnificent club and I’m so proud to be a Colognian really. We need to get a few results to go our way between now and Christmas because we’re not in a great position at the minute now. But we’re not far off mid-table and a couple of good results can really change that.

imago-20190716 Barrett (front, immediate left) with her side. Source: Imago/PA Images

“It’s a very small league and very tight league and that’s an exciting thing as well. But as I said to you, it’s absolutely a dream job.”

“I don’t think that the Koln girls have the same level of banter as the Peamount girls,” she adds, with a cheeky smirk, “we’re working on that!

Other than that… here they’re great girls and I have a really, really good time for them. It obviously takes a long time to build that relationship both on the field and off it.

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On the international front, Barrett has been doing just that with new manager Pauw.

It’s an exciting time for the Girls In Green as they go in search of qualification for a first-ever major tournament. With two wins from two, they travel to Greece for their third Euro 2021 qualifier on Tuesday afternoon [kick off 1pm Irish time, live on RTÉ 2].

Currently second in Group I behind runaway leaders Germany, Ireland are in good stead after starting off the Vera Era on a high with a 3-2 win over Ukraine in front of a record-breaking crowd at Tallaght Stadium last month. 

Before that, they were 2-0 winners over Montenegro in their opener under interim boss Tom O’Connor, who took charge following the shock departure of Bell.

“Unfortunately, we had a difficult few weeks there waiting for the new manager to be appointed,” Barrett concedes. “It did distract us a little bit, you can get caught up reading a new name every day.

vera-pauw-celebrates-after-the-game Vera Pauw after that win. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“Thankfully now Vera’s come in and she was a breath of fresh air in the last camp. She had a completely new approach to how we were used to things under different coaches. I think that’s what everybody has said: she’s something that a lot of us have never experienced before.

“Obviously we had a terrific result against Ukraine who are second seeds, to win at home and to have two games with results, that’s exactly what we needed. This is going to be the most difficult game of the three because it’s our first away game and obviously it’s really important for us that we’re going into Christmas with three from three.

There’s a little bit of pressure as well that we have to perform and we have to get a result.

With success brings pressure, Barrett is well aware of that. But they have the right people at the top to keep them focused, she insists.

“At the same time, Vera is always reassuring us that we are well capable of getting to the Euros. I think when you have somebody that’s just giving you that information all the time, you can’t help but believe it. I think that’s been the best bit about it so far.

“Obviously then Eileen [Gleeson] coming in to work with her too, Eileen’s a very familiar face in Irish women’s football. We’re very lucky with the backroom team we have and we’re very lucky with the players we have.

“It’s definitely going to be an exciting few months for the Irish women’s team. This time two weeks hopefully we’ll be celebrating a third win in our group,” Barrett concluded at the time of our conversation.

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Emma Duffy

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