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'It is bittersweet for me but I'm their biggest fan and so proud of every single one of them'

‘Once a Pea, always a Pea,’ Ireland striker Amber Barrett is watching her former club with pride from Germany.

barrett Amber Barrett made the move from Peamount to FC Köln earlier this year. Source: PA Images/Inpho.

HOW TIME FLIES.

This weekend 12 months ago, Amber Barrett was lining out for her beloved Peamount United side in the FAI Cup final. Making her first appearance at the Aviva Stadium, it was Wexford Youths who broke the Dubliners’ hearts as they sealed a terrific domestic treble. 

A year later, there’s a small bit of Déja Vu with the same two sides battling it out on the biggest day of the women’s football calendar on these shores. But there’s some change, of course.

It’s Peamount who are coming in on a high after being crowned league champions last week, while Wexford would be considered underdogs after an underwhelming season thus far.

The biggest change for Ireland striker Barrett, however, is that she’s not involved in any shape or form. She’ll be watching from afar after signing professionally for German club FC Köln this summer.

With kick-off at Lansdowne Road pencilled in for 12.05pm tomorrow, the Donegal native is worried she won’t get to follow it as closely as she would like with her own game against Bayern Munich scheduled for 2pm [1pm Irish time].

“If I can get anything, even just a score update,” Barrett laughs — a nervous one at that — down the phone on Wednesdsay afternoon. She is their biggest fan after all.

“Maybe just before I go out for the warm up, I’ll get a quick glimpse at the score and a quick little check. I’d say other than that, I’ll be waiting patiently for hopefully my own game to go well and the Peamount game to go well too.”

Since making the move to the Frauen-Bundesliga after bowing out from Greenogue with a hat-trick in late June, the 23-year-old has become well accustomed to watching the Peas from afar. 

When Barrett left, the south Dublin outfit had notched up 12 wins from 12 in the league. Clinical in their assault, Peamount were eventually crowned champions for the first time since the inaugural 2011/12 season last Saturday night after taking an impressive 56 points from the 63 on offer. 

With holders Wexford out of the race early on, Shelbourne pushed them all the way, however, ensuring that the league would come right down to the final day. A home win — or a draw at a push — over the Reds earlier this month would have clinched the title with two games to spare, but Peamount’s party was most definitely spoiled. 

And Barrett’s trip home to be there for the celebrations. 

“I was a little bit annoyed with them, to be honest,” she explains, her infectious personality shining through with every word she utters.

amber-barrett-celebrates-at-the-final-whistle Celebrating an Ireland win last year. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Köln were given the Sunday off, and Peamount were in action the Saturday evening so Barrett flew home straight after training that morning, ready and waiting to be part of it all.

“Unfortunately they didn’t win it,” she frowns, reflecting on the 2-1 loss. “I was disappointed when I was home for the game. I thought that this would be it.

“Look, I’ve had different people going to the games since I’ve been away and everybody has praised how well they have done. Before I left people were saying, ‘Will Peamount be able?’ I had absolutely no doubt that they were going to be more than capable of winning the league.

“To be honest, when we look at the league table now and it says two points [of a difference between first and second], I don’t think that reflects how dominant Peamount were. At the same time, it’s probably not giving enough credit to how good Shels were.

“For me, it’s a completely different 12 months and it’s been completely different looking on. I was at Peamount for such a long time and to not really get… we were close a couple of times but this was the season that everybody was talking about.

“We were fully focused on winning the league. It has been the main objective from the first game we went back in January. When you think about it like that, it’s nearly nine months of a season. It’s long and people sacrifice so much for these things.”

You can almost hear her smiling down the phone.

I’m just happy now… even though it is bittersweet for me, obviously I wanted to be part of the celebrations but I’m absolutely so proud of every single one of them.

“I know how much they’ve put in, I know how much sacrifice every single one of them have made. It’s obviously not been an easy time for some of them recently, I think when you see the spirit and the camaraderie in the Peamount team, the management and everybody that comes out to the games… the club itself, they are an absolute credit to themselves.

I’ve never seen so much push towards promoting women’s football and a women’s team and getting so far behind them. It’s long overdue, yes, but I think that’s why Peamount are successful this season.

It has been a long time coming, she agrees, referring back to the cliché that you have to lose one to win one. Barrett recalls how Wexford beat Peamount 2-0 at Ferrycarrig in the league run-in a few years back, where a win would have saw her side over the line. That never materialised.

Disappointment after disappointment, heartache after heartache. But one must remember just how young the team was then: “We overplayed ourselves that year,” she says. “I was our oldest player and I was 21. That says so much about the team.”

Now, they have the perfect balance of youth to go with buckets of experience. She names younger players like Niamh Farrelly, Megan Smyth-Lynch and Eleanor Ryan-Doyle who are just that in age, but have been around for quite a while, and then the likes of Della Doherty who have brought a new dimension to the group.

They’re as much part of it all. Everyone is the one.

“I think they’ve got it right in that sense but at the same time I think it’s nearly come at the right time,” Barrett continues.

They had so much pain and heartache, getting so close. That’s the worst part about it. If you’re miles off the mark, it’s like, ‘Well, we have a lot of work to do.’ But you know how good you’ve been the last couple of seasons… We have one league cup trophy to show for our efforts. That’s very, very hard to take.

“If you know the likes of Karen Duggan, Niamh Reid Burke and Áine O’Gorman, you know how competitive they are. One trophy for them players is not good enough.”

The mention of O’Gorman reminds her of a moment at the start of the season. Named club captain, the recently-retired Ireland international had a few direct words with her side. Home truths.

“She just came in and said we need to stop messing about and start being serious about it,” Barrett recalls. “If we don’t want to be here, we can step away. I think every single girl knew they were serious about doing things this year.”

Fast-forward a few months, and the emotion all over O’Gorman’s face last Saturday night summed it all up after she lifted the silverware. 

Immeasurable joy. 

And Barrett feels it too. 

Absolutely, and that’s one of the more successful players in women’s football in Ireland,” she points out. “That’s the type of reaction, it’s long overdue.”

Another stalwart caught her eye in video clips manager James O’Callaghan sent her on of the final whistle sounding against Cork City, confirming Peamount were champions. 

“There’s a great shot of Karen Duggan doing a leap and I don’t think she’s ever jumped as high in her life,” Barrett laughs. “She’s never jumped as high to win a header anyway!

aine-ogorman-celebrates-with-the-trophy-after-the-game O'Gorman celebrating last Saturday night. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

“It’s different if it was the younger girls showing these reactions but these are the experienced players who have been around and won it all. Up until Saturday night, Karen and Niamh Reid Burke were the only players on our team that had won the league so that says a lot.

It meant a lot, it’s a long time. Peamount’s last league title was nearly seven years ago, that’s madness. Delighted for them anyway.

While she says it’s bittersweet, she stresses time and time again that it’s more sweet than bitter: she couldn’t be happier for her former team-mates. Understandably, there is that slight sense of jealousy, but Barrett is living her own dream.

Leaving Peamount was a hard decision, but it was something she knew she needed to do to improve her own game and to give herself the best possible chance to excel on the world’s biggest stages in the green jersey. 

It would be different if Peamount weren’t close to competing, it would have been a much easier decision to leave. I knew this year, I knew when we got to the stage of the season before I left, I had absolutely no doubt that we’d win the league. If they did lose the league, it would have taken an absolute miracle from either Shelbourne or Wexford to catch them.

“Obviously I had to weigh up a lot of things but I think long-term when I look at it, I don’t necessarily regret the decision. I miss the girls, I miss the team, I miss the craic that they’ve gone and won a league as soon as I’ve left. I think they’ve done an absolute badness on me! But it’s something I wanted to do and I’ve always wanted to do it.”

“I really only started taking soccer seriously two or three years ago,” the talented Gaelic footballer and fully-qualified secondary school teacher explains. “I just said to myself, ‘You need to be a little bit selfish for once.’ I think I put off things for other people and that maybe in a sense held me back and delayed my own development.

It’s hard for me to see that they’re being so successful, winning the league and stuff and doing what I’ve always wanted to do. But at the same time, I wouldn’t have traded over the last six months I’ve had.

“I’ve grown as a player, I’ve gone into a new environment, completely independent to myself, met new people, met players playing international level in other countries. It’s a new culture and it’s a very, very special experience.

“As I said, it’s bittersweet for me but at the same time I wouldn’t trade places with anybody at the minute. I’m doing what I’ve always wanted to do.”

Open and honest throughout our conversation, Barrett goes into much further detail on her experiences in Mainland Europe thus far and how all is going on the international front under Vera Pauw. That will all be published in a separate article on The42 next week, but for today, it’s fitting we stick to Peamount, Wexford and the domestic football scene on these shores.

Interestingly, she’ll not be the only Bundesliga player following with keen interest before their Sunday afternoon kick-offs. And even more interestingly, it’s former Wexford Youths and now MSV Duisburg star Claire O’Riordan who will be keeping a close eye on her old club.

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imago-20180612 O'Riordan plies her trade with Duisburg. Source: Imago/PA Images

The two Ireland internationals’ sides went head-to-head in the league opener with advantage 2-1 Barrett, but they face off once again in the coming weeks. 

“I think we play them before Christmas as well so hopefully a little bit of game time, and a couple of one-on-one battles with Claire would be a nice Christmas present,” she grins. 

A couple of years ago when we were fighting for the league title down in Wexford, you’d never have thought that we’d end up playing in the Bundesliga in Germany — one of the biggest leagues in Europe. It’s amazing that this is where we end up.

“At the same time, there’s several other players in the Irish league that I know would be good enough to make the step up if they ever chose to do so.”

This is O’Riordan’s second season at the western Germany side so she wasn’t there for Wexford’s 1-0 FAI Cup final win over Barrett’s Peas last November. 

For the latter, the postmortem is pretty much still underway. 

One that got away on Irish soccer’s biggest stage. Her memories aren’t exactly overwhelmingly positive. 

“To be honest with you, I think the build-up to the week was more exciting than the day itself,” she concedes. “It’s one of those games now you try to forget.

“It was very disappointing for us obviously because we were very confident going in. I don’t think we did ourselves any justice on the day, I don’t think we turned up. In that sense it’s very difficult to enjoy an experience when you come out on the wrong side of a result.

“Going out and warming out on the pitch, the start of it was very exciting, the build-up and being in the dressing room. But I think, even for myself, it’s one that I’m trying to kind of rectify in many ways.

The week building up, I think is the best part. The excitement, getting so many text messages and well wishes from all over the world, things like that. It’s so special for something in what’s deemed as such a small country to have such international interest as well.

“Girls from all over the world were sending us in messages. Things like that are really, really special. Hopefully now Peamount can do the business on Sunday; it’s a terrific experience and it would be even better if you come out on the right side of the result.”

She gets into the more nitty-gritty details: the missed chances, how, if Peamount had given ‘even 90 per cent of a performance,’ they could have gotten a result, how Wexford didn’t necessarily dominate but they had one perfect opportunity and Katrina Parrock nailed it.

But there’s no point dwelling on it too much.

amber-barrett-dejected-at-the-end-of-the-game Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Tomorrow, they get the chance to right the wrongs. Their shot at redemption.  

“If Peamount are to have any joy this weekend — I’m obviously very confident that they will — they do have to take their chance when they get it,” she enthuses. “You can’t be missing five or six different chances because good teams will just pounce.”

Wexford most definitely are a good team. But Peamount have been something else this year, it must be said. 

And Barrett is nothing but proud of what they’ve done so far. 

The FAI Cup, and sealing the double, would just be the icing on the cake. 

“Absolutely,” she beams when we remark just how proud, and happy for her former team-mates and friends, she is. “I don’t say that with any sense of, ‘Oh, I wish that was me’ and ‘I wish…’

Look, I’d love to have been a part of it when it was so good but at the same time, I’m their biggest fan and I always will be. There’s so many terrific girls off the field, and footballers, they’re going to be friends with me hopefully for a very long time.

“That’s the special thing about Peamount: it’s not just a football team. You’ve made such a close group of friends who you trust with so much.

“There’s some people in the team that have had different difficult experiences in the last year and those things… Peamount have seen what was happening and how they’ve dealt with it and been behind players in their hardships, it’s absolutely unreal.

I’m so proud to have been a Peamount player and to still be in many ways a Peamount player,” she concludes. “Once you’re a Pea, you’re always a Pea for life.

“I’m delighted for them and I have absolutely no doubt if they play to their best ability on Sunday, they’ll be winning the double.”

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Emma Duffy

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