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The ex-Donegal GAA star and trainee teacher who became Ireland's latest hero

Peamount United striker Amber Barrett popped up with a first international goal on Friday and she’ll be aiming to bag another tomorrow night.

Barrett outside the FAI HQ.
Barrett outside the FAI HQ.

AMBER BARRETT MADE nationwide headlines last Friday thanks to her thunderous 87th-minute winner against Slovakia.

A first international goal ensured Ireland’s dream of creating history by qualifying for the Women’s World Cup in France next year lives on.

The 22-year-old, who packed in her inter-county ladies football career with Donegal to concentrate on soccer, is part of the new generation of young players brought into the set-up by manager Colin Bell.

Having impressed for the Girls in Green at last year’s University Games, Barrett made the progression to the senior set-up and earned a debut in the opening qualifier away to Northern Ireland last September.

The striker was handed a starting berth against the Netherlands two months later and put in a shift for 45 minutes before being replaced by Leanne Kiernan. An incredible team effort saw Ireland claim a valuable point against the European champions, who they meet once again in Dublin tomorrow evening (7pm).

“If you look at the preparation we did for the first Netherlands game, it was hugely intense and it was weeks of work,” Barrett tells The42 recently. “It wasn’t that we just turned up in camp and knew what way we were going to play.

“The draw was actually made before the European Championships last summer and Colin went out to the tournament. He said that he knew after the first 10 minutes of watching them how we were going to set up against them.

“Straight away, he put that plan in place to do that. It was a defensive masterclass but we still could have got a win out of that because we had a couple of little chances. I know I had a couple and Leanne had one or two as well.

“I was disappointed and that’s me being stubborn but people don’t realise the shift me and Leanne had to put in for the game. He did say to both of us that it would be a two-man job.

“Obviously, I would have liked to get a bit longer but I think that he knew both of us very well in terms of how we were feeling. You have to remember that Leanne and I are amateur players and we had never in our lives played at a level like that — against the European champions in a World Cup qualifier.

You wouldn’t believe the intensity, even after the first 10 minutes it felt like we had played an hour of the game! So we did our job for the team.”

Amber Barrett Amber training with the squad today. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Bell has been eager to bring through the youth since taking the job a little over a year ago, and Barrett has now cemented her place as an important member of the squad.

“Colin said since day one that he is opening the door for players and it’s opportunity to go through it or let it close,” she adds. “He doesn’t care who you are or what you’ve done, if there are players there playing well he’s going to have to put them in the squad.

“He spoke of the importance of young players and we are lucky to have so many. The good thing about it is that it’s competition for everybody. You’re not guaranteed to play and with that hanging over you, you can see the players giving 110% in training.”

The Englishman has been widely-praised by his players for instilling a new level of professional among the group and Barrett believes the ex-FFC Frankfurt boss has improved her game significantly.

“He is a perfectionist and going into the games before Christmas, we had preparation down to a tee,” she explains. “Every last thing we did, whether it was on the training ground or in the class room with video analysis, was covered and looked at.

The thing I like is that he leaves no stone unturned. Any possibility, even if there is a 10% chance, he covers it. To be honest, I’m delighted with him.

“He’s fantastic and he’s probably what Irish women’s football needed — somebody to come in and shake it up a bit. I think he’s done that and I’ve learned quantities of football knowledge from him.

“Even the girls who have done everything in the women’s game are learning from him and that speaks a lot. I still consider myself a young player and there are a lot of avenues I’d love to explore and he’s always pointing you in the right direction.”

Amber Barrett celebrates with Colin Bell at the final whistle Celebrating with Colin Bell after Friday's win. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Having moved from her native Donegal to Dublin and joined Peamount United, Barrett led her club to within a whisker of the Women’s National League (WNL) back in November — as they lost out to champions Wexford Youths on the final day of the season.

The Peas have begun the current campaign brightly though, and she is eager to re-establish them as the top side in the country.

“I haven’t won anything with Peamount yet,” she says. “This year, we have a bit of experience that can hopefully help us. There is a lot of competition in the league but I’d personally love to win something with them.

“I’ve been there four or five years at this stage and I absolutely love the club as if I’ve grown up with it all my life. It’s been a big part of my career so far and I’d be very grateful to them.

“It would put Peamount back on the map as well because a few years ago they were playing Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League, so you’re looking and thinking ‘Why can’t we do that?’ That’s the ambition we have as players and that’s what I want to do.”

Just finishing the first of a two-year teaching Masters degree in DCU, Barrett has a passion for education. School children from Glendalough, where she does her work placement, will even be at Tallaght Stadium to watch her in tomorrow night’s game.

That said, the forward would be willing to put a career in the classroom on hold if the chance to play full-time football presents itself.

“I consider myself very ambitious and I’d say to play professional football is an ambition of every girl in the Ireland squad,” she says.

“I’ve always wanted to teach but if the opportunity to play professionally abroad comes up it’s something I wouldn’t be able to say no to. Your football career is only a short part of your life and you work for the rest of it so I’d hopefully be finished my Masters and see what happens with football.

“If nothing comes knocking then I can still stay with the teaching because it is something I have a passion for. I think it’s important for people playing sport to get a degree but a lot of people go away and then come back and they struggle to find something because they don’t have that cushion behind them.”

Current Irish striker Amber Barrett was last month named as one of the latest Ambassadors for the Para Swimming Allianz European Championships

She will be swapping the football field for the swimming pool as to take on the Para Swimming Allianz European Championship Ambassador Challenge on 17 August along with Irish football legend Niall Quinn, former rugby star Gordon D’Arcy, Olympian Jessie Barr and four soon-to-be announced ambassadors to compete in a 50m race in the National Aquatic Centre

Over 600 volunteers are being sought to help in a variety of roles at the championships and Niall Quinn encouraged their involvement: “Volunteers are so important to events like this and it can be an extremely rewarding experience. I would urge anyone that has some spare time to get involved between 13 and 19 August signing up to www.paralympics.ie before the deadline of 12 April”

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Ben Blake

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