fervour she wrote

Ireland's World Cup history-makers give us a reason to get carried away all over again

Amber Barrett provided one of the most famous moments in Irish sporting history in sending Ireland to the 2023 Women’s World Cup.


The first touch needs to be perfect: weighty enough to get it out of her own feet and away from the defender, not too weighty so as to roll through to the goalkeeper. It is. 

The second touch merely needs to buy time and keep momentum. It does. 

The third touch is the one complicated by choice. Take another? Aim for the near post? Smash it through the goalkeeper’s legs? Chip her instead? She has no time to sift through them all but she nonetheless picks the right one, cooly prodding the ball into the far corner.

The ball rolled slowly, gorgeously into the far corner, leaving enough time for a country to shake off their anxiety, dip into disbelief, and then kick off into exultation.

Amber Barrett wheeled away, pointing to the black armband on her bicep.

Barrett was born in Milford in Donegal and her grandparents were born in Creeslough. It was there she spent summers and Christmases and where her uncle still lives. She knows people at the scene of the tragedy, knows people bereaved by the tragedy… knew people killed in the tragedy.

amber-barrett-celebrates-scoring-their-first-goal-with-teammates-as-she-gestures-to-the-black-armband-worn-in-memory-of-those-affected-by-the-tragedy-in-creeslough Amber Barrett points to her black armband. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Amber, Amber… it has felt like Ireland’s World Cup prospects have been flashing on amber for months with Fifa’s absurd, Beautiful Mind-style play-off structure keeping dreams stalled while everyone figured out whether it was okay to stop or go. It is clearly green for go now and Ireland will compete at the 2023 Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. 

This was a success forged in the smithy of past heartbreaks, Aine O’Gorman’s return to the team an echo of her horrendous own-goal against Ukraine in the last campaign. Courtney Brosnan should have dealt better with that infamous back-pass but has returned to become Ireland’s best player across this whole campaign, the scale of her improvement remarkable.

She earned her own moment of heroism tonight, saving Caroline Weir’s early penalty. Like the rest of her team-mates, she was a step ahead: pre-empting Weir by shifting her weight to her left and then diving to palm the ball to safety. “The penalty save was not luck”, said Vera Pauw. “We trained it. We trained every scenario.”

Ireland grabbed their reprieve and then put it into Megan Campbell’s hands, who in turn clawed Ireland’s way back into the game by slinging throws into the Scotland penalty area like comets hurled down by the Gods. Chaos reigned, and Scotland were saved only by no hint of a deflection when one throw sailed into the net.

Sidney Lumet ratcheted up the tension in 12 Angry Men by having the walls slowly close in as the film passed but here Scotland must have felt the ramparts widening all the time: Hampden Park’s generous touchlines gave Campbell a huge runway from which to launch her howitzers. 

That the game was goalless at half-time was a minor miracle. O’Gorman stooped to head over the crossbar from six yards out, and another Campbell throw caused chaos, the ball cleared off the line twice, either side of a stunning, reflex save. 

Ireland caused trouble when they buzzed around and harried the Scottish midfield but they dropped off in the second half, growing passive, inviting pressure, ratcheting heart-rates. Heather Payne chased too many errant balls into the channels and finally left through injury, with Barrett sprung from the bench, to make counter-attacking into the aforementioned art. 

Ireland then squatted, dug in, throwing themselves at shots and crosses with Brosnan giving a truly prodigious display of time-wasting. Initially kicking the final free-kick from her hands was her pièce de résistance. 

She then dutifully put the ball onto the ground, launched it long, and seconds later the Irish players were wildly pinballing into each other’s arms as Vera Pauw held her head in disbelief. 

vera-pauw-celebrates-her-side-qualifying-for-the-world-cup Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Now the international women’s team have their breakthrough moment, leavened with some Scottish moment just as the men’s was. This puts the Irish women’s national team on the path to Lansdowne Road and wry discourse about Credit Union loans; to an odyssey to the other side of the world scored to shouts from bleary-eyed fans at home. This achievement fixes the women’s national team as a vital part of the Irish sporting identity and opportunity blooms.

Inspiration trickles down faster than water and the FAI must ensure it is not wasted. Jack Charlton’s men’s side popularised football in all corners in Ireland but a feckless FAI could not fuse so many disparate passions into any sort of solid, lasting structure: this new FAI administration must not repeat the mistakes of the past. 

They must take care of the careful husbandry of it all, but the rest of us now have to get on with the business of getting carried away all over again. 

A Fervour, She Wrote.  

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