Ryan Byrne/INPHO
# Donegal's finest
'Watching her kiss the armband, that was massive' - the rise of Amber Barrett
Amber Barrett’s historic goal was a special one for a host of clubs across the county.

IN LAGAN, THEY knew about her before they even saw her. Initially, Amber Barrett played for Milford with the boys’ team. Her rattling of the net echoed around the county. 

“We heard about her U10 when she was banging in goals against the boys,” says Bríd McGinty, her Lagan Harps manager. McGinty is embedded in the game at every level, having managed Donegal Ladies Development squads and worked as secretary of the Donegal Women’s League. 

 Every beam of small promise inevitably comes across her radar. With Barrett, the shine was dazzling. 

“Everyone was like, ‘where did she come from?’ She was a natural runner with loads of pace. At 12, girls couldn’t play in the boys league. She joined us then and continued, kept scoring.

“Her last game she played for us was a FAI Cup junior final down in Tipperary. We won 13-1. Amber scored eight.”

ciara-grant-amber-barrett-niamh-mcdaid-and-roma-mclaughlin-celebrate-after-the-game-with-a-co-donegal-flag Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

The supersub’s most recent effort wrote her name into history as the Republic of Ireland qualified for the World Cup on a historic night at Hampden Park. 

Consider the components of a moment like Tuesday night’s decisive big-toe strike. In pure football terms, there was Niamh Fahey’s cushioned header followed by a glorious Denise O’Sullivan through ball, an archetypal counter-attack move sourced all the way ‘from Knocknaheeny, biy!’ as Katie McCabe delightfully declared post-match.

Barrett came on for Heather Payne in the second half and brought with her heavy baggage. As she explained in 2021, the near-misses and close calls were starting to take hold. After the Germany defeat, the Donegal native said Vera Pauw told them ‘to remember this feeling and this is not going to happen again.’ 

When her chance finally came, she seized it with both hands. 

“It was always there,” McGinty recalls. “The drive, the fight, the desire. Trying to bring that to others the same age as her. Even in a five v five game in training, Amber had to win it.

“She was always competitive. Some people have that competitiveness and use it to their advantage. Others, if it is not going their way, that competitiveness disappears. She was always using it to her advantage.

“She shows the drive it takes to make it as an international. To say, at the end of the day, this is what I want. Some players now, they train and do their work, but are they pushing themselves to that extra level?

“I think it is coming from an area where you have to fight for everything you get. The opportunity wasn’t obvious, so she had to go and take it.”

During lockdown, McGinty organised online Zoom calls for the young Donegal players who couldn’t get out on the pitch. There was a real fear they’d lose interest and be lost forever.

She invited members of the Irish team to speak to the girls and they came in their droves. The likes of Barrett, Ciara Grant, Leanne Kiernan, Diane Caldwell and Rianna Jarrett all gave their time. 

“They know what it is like to grow up with limited resources. They know what it can mean to have some inspiration.”

Barrett’s home town is Milford. There her sporting pedigree is established and renowned. Her father, Shaun Paul, played soccer and Gaelic football locally before managing the club and county U20s. Her brother Luke is the current county minor manager and the LYIT Letterkenny freshers manager. 

Her other brother Kane is a current member of the Donegal senior squad. Her mother is a marathon runner. Born to run, reared to soar. 

In 2016, Donegal beat Galway in the LGFA championship. Barrett scored 2-3 and pointed to the sky in memory of her late grandfather. Afterwards she spoke movingly about how the support of her team and family helped her navigate a tough week. 

She is of her tribe. Always.

“What you always heard from Amber was the importance of a team,” says Mickey McGlynn, Milford clubman and Finn Harps physio.

“The collective. Look at this campaign, she didn’t start too many games but had an impact coming on.

“She wouldn’t complain when she didn’t start. Someone who would answer the call whenever it comes. No better example than last night.” 

amber-barrett-scores-their-first-goal Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Donegal native and former Irish Athletics team manager Patsy McGonagle was the one who pulled Barrett aside as a teen and told her the time was coming when she would have to make a choice between sports. 

In athletics, she had a natural talent and constant support.  

“She was very engaged in it. Her parents were so supportive. They went with her everywhere. She was winning locally, then Ulster and nationally the odd time on the track. Everywhere she went to run, her parents were with her.”

For all the class of the goal, what came after was even more extraordinary. Immediately in celebration, she kissed the black armband on her arm before later paying a heartfelt tribute to the victims of the Creeslough tragedy.

“Watching her kiss the armband, that was massive. To me… Jesus. I went around the world with athletes for 20, 30 years. None of them would be that sharp on it. The excitement would get to most of us. She was on the ball for it all.”

What’s next? For Barrett, it is all about Australia and New Zealand next summer. “If she wants to win the World Cup, she better put me on the plane,” was her closing remarks on a magical night. 

For Mickey McGlynn, that goal brought us to a crucial junction. Now is the time to capitalise on it. 

“Surely now, it is a huge chance to add to it all, even more development. This is a hugely significant moment. To show young girls who are dreaming there is a pathway. Their heroes will be on the biggest stage now. These girls from rural areas, Amber played all her underage in Donegal.

“Now they have the Emerging Talent programme which wasn’t there when Amber was young.

“This shows what can be done. Don’t forget, Roma McLaughlin, Ciara Grant are part of that. Donegal has three representatives on the squad.

“Young girls from Donegal know what can be done with hard work, if you are dedicated and live your life properly. I hope we take this moment.” 

Just like Amber Barrett did. 

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment

    Leave a commentcancel