Amber Barrett (left) during the warm-up on Thursday night. Laszlo Geczo/INPHO
Big One

'Every Irish team, when nobody gives them a chance, that's when they step up into the light'

Amber Barrett and Ireland face Finland in a crucial World Cup qualifier in Helsinki this evening.

“GO AND DO something in this group,” Swedish star and Chelsea captain Magdalena Eriksson told Vera Pauw’s Republic of Ireland after their World Cup qualifier on Thursday.

The Girls In Green opened a fresh bid to reach a first-ever major tournament on a losing note; an unfortunate first-half goal ultimately separating the nations ranked second and 33rd in the world.

The plan now is to do as Eriksson said. Those simple words, from one of the best players in the world right now, on behalf of one of the top teams, shows the significant increase in respect Ireland have earned from opponents of late.

“To hear that from one of their players is a huge compliment,” a proud Amber Barrett said afterwards, also touching on the research the Swedes had done for their visit to Tallaght Stadium, and how they dealt with Ireland’s threats.

“A couple of years ago, we wouldn’t have got that respect. The result a couple of weeks ago [against Australia], I think people were watching and people said, ‘Okay, these girls mean business’. That’s why I think it’s now important that Tuesday is a positive result because then I think people will really start to listen.

“We’re getting closer all the time and we are developing, I think the result against Australia shows that, and the performance tonight. But against Finland on Tuesday, we’re really going to have to push on and go another step.”

Bottom line, so: Ireland need a result against Group A’s second seeds in Helsinki this evening?

“Yeah, absolutely,” Donegal attacker Barrett nods, “but the thing is there’s a long way to go in the group. We’re not going to rule anything out. I tell you, we’ll be ready to go.”

Leaving empty-handed isn’t really an option, though; the pressure well and truly on as the race for second place ramps up nice and early. But pressure is a privilege, and it more often than not brings out the best in teams.

Barrett agrees. “It does in a way. I think every Irish team, when nobody gives them a chance, that’s when they step up into the light. When the group came out, everybody looked at Sweden as being the top team in the group – we can’t take that away – I think then, we looked at Finland.

“The message when the draw came out was, ‘We’re happy with the draw, we know how good we are, we know how good the teams are in the draw, and even going to Slovakia and Georgia, they’re going to be really, really difficult games.’ The fact of the matter is every team in the group has to play away and at home. Tuesday is a huge game but we’ll be ready to go.”

Barrett, who plays her club football at FC Koln in Germany, also stressed that the Girls In Green need “a little bit of luck” at times; the ball not dropping in the right places, and not getting that goal, or conceding one other teams don’t, a big problem for Irish football across the board, she feels.

Having seen herself as an “out and out number nine” before she was deployed in a midfield role by Pauw against Australia, the Milford native came off the bench in a similar capacity in the Swedish showdown.

imago-20210721 Barrett plays her club football with FC Koln. Imago / PA Images Imago / PA Images / PA Images

She’s happy to be versatile, and open to playing anywhere if it means representing her country: “If you look at the best players in the world, they’re all flexible. Katie [McCabe] can go left midfield, left wing, go in as a No 10. The same with Denise [O'Sullivan]. We need to have that flexibility in our positions. It’s something I have to learn and adapt to.”

While fully focused on international duty, the 25-year-old is “a wee bit frustrated” with life at FC Koln at the minute, “not getting a look-in no matter what I’m doing”.

She’s sought it already, but is hoping for a little more guidance and feedback, while understanding and accepting that not everything is always rosy in professional sport, and you have these lulls sometimes.

But her full concentration is on Ireland, and on Finland this evening.

The side come in on a high despite defeat to Sweden; she firmly believes that was the closest her side came to taking something – a scalp, a result, or points – against one of the world’s top teams, having played quite a few of late.

“I would say that,” she smiled on Thursday. “When you look over the last games, we went on a run of six or seven defeats [in-a-row]. Ultimately yes, we look at the defeat, but you have to also look at the level of opposition we’re playing.

“We’ve played some of the best women’s teams in the world with some of the best women’s players in the world. I think ultimately for us to really, really step on, it’s about matching them and then going that little bit further when we get the opportunity.

“It didn’t happen tonight, but I would say out of the games we’ve played, I think tonight was the game that showed the improvement we’ve really made as a team.”

Here’s to more of that this evening.

Ireland v Finland, Helsinki Olympic Stadium, 4.15pm Irish time, live on RTÉ Two.


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