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The Irish contingent central to Liverpool's promotion bid and FA Cup dream

Niamh Fahey, Leanne Kiernan, Megan Campbell and S&C coach Colm Smith are having a big influence on Merseyside.

Updated Feb 27th 2022, 10:23 AM

Ireland Liverpool-4

IN JULY 2018, Niamh Fahey signed for Liverpool. A lifelong Reds fan, it was the dream move as she returned to the English top-flight after a stint with Bordeaux in France.

Now a Republic of Ireland centurion, the former Chelsea and Arsenal star defender made a considerable impact during her first season on Merseyside, and was appointed vice-captain.

The childhood dream hit new heights in August 2020 when she was named captain; the 2004 Galway All-Ireland winner tasked with leading the troops after their relegation to the Championship from the Women’s Super League [WSL].

Promotion back to the top-flight is now within touching distance, as Liverpool sit 10 points clear at the top of the table. Their FA Cup dream is alive and kicking, too, with a massive clash ahead this weekend.

And Fahey heads up an Irish contingent central to the Reds’ recent turn of fortunes.

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In June 2021, Leanne Kiernan signed from West Ham, and two days later, Megan Campbell’s switch from Manchester City was confirmed. The presence of international team-mate Fahey was a sure factor in both moves, while Kiernan linked up with former Hammers boss Matt Beard.

Another Cavan native soon joined the reunion in strength and conditioning coach, Colm Smith, so it’s fair to say that there’s no shortage of Irish influence in the set-up.

“It feels like home across the water,” Kiernan, the Championship’s leading goal-scorer with 12 so far this season, says. “Niamh is one of the reasons why I was attracted to the club, she deserves her 100 caps that she’s got. It’s a really good vibe, really good people around me, it’s all the good conditions to grow as a player.”

Campbell, who has seen her injury-plagued career revitalised at the Reds, shares those sentiments. “For me, 100% it’s the best squad I’ve ever been a part of in terms of the togetherness, in terms of everybody wanting each other to do well and succeed on and off the pitch,” she smiles.

“I go in there and I leave feeling more energised than when I’ve gone in. Normally you wouldn’t be like that because you’re leaving training tired, but I can’t wait to get into training in the mornings and I love travel days, I love being in and around the squad.

“It’s definitely the best environment for me, and it was the best decision that I could have made in my career going forward. I’m quite fortunate to be around a good squad, a good group of players but also good staff in Matt [Beard] and the rest who have really looked after me.”

Screenshot (7) Smith on the training pitch. Source: Liverpool FC.

Smith is one of such; a near-neighbour of Kiernan’s from home. He’s from Kingscourt, while she calls Balieborough home — “the other side of the hill, the dark side,” Smith laughs.

Having started his career in London a few years back, working in GAA and then rugby with Harlequins, Ealing Trailfinders and Esher, he’s been involved in women’s football circles ever since pitching up at the Chelsea academy.

The move north, and change of environment as he considers all aspects of Liverpool’s physical performance, has paid dividends.

“I’m loving it up here, loving the people, loving the environment,” Smith told the club’s website in November. “There’s a very friendly atmosphere between the players and the staff, and it’s very enjoyable to say the least.

“The girls are brilliant, the energy they bring every day is great, as well as the staff, to be fair. It’s a very healthy environment.”

That connection to home has certainly helped Kiernan, and she hails Smith as a “massive” influence on her career, particularly after the recent injury struggles she has overcome.

“I’m quite an explosive player so I need to work on my hamstring strength just to be able to do gym and not lose pace is a big thing for me,” she explains. “I’ve worked with him for the last three years and he’s been great.

“He knows how to manage my load, it’s quite nice that I can trust in somebody like that. He’s been great. It is hard to say to his face but he’s a good lad!”

With Northern Ireland star Rachel Furness also on the books, Fahey, Kiernan and Campbell make no secret of the fact that promotion from back to the WSL has been the main aim and objective since before the start of the season.

They know that Liverpool, as a club, should be in the top league, and they know exactly what they need to do to get there.

“Where we are, you couldn’t have asked for it to have gone better up to this point, 10 points clear, but London City are putting up a good fight and it’s by no means won yet,” the skipper stresses.

“We have a lot of tough games on the way, we’re in a good position but that’s all it is, we take it each game as it comes, we need to finish it off and see it through.”

liverpool-v-aston-villa-fa-womens-league-cup-group-a-prenton-park Kiernan celebrating a goal with team-mates. Source: PA

There, too, is a giant FA Cup tie coming up on Sunday [KO 12pm, live on RTÉ News, BBC red button and the FA Player] against Arsenal; the WSL and the Championship leaders going head-to-head in the competition’s fifth round, with Katie McCabe among the opposition.

It’s a “massive test,” though Liverpool have “nothing to lose” and will go in with confidence, 22-year-old Kiernan assures, while Campbell adds:

“The FA Cup is is a very prestigious competition, a prestigious award that you get at the end and to play a team like Arsenal who have won it on many, many occasions is an incredible thing for us.

“To compete against the best of the best and put ourselves up there for hopefully come next season when we are promoted, you have that experience of playing against them and know where we need to be. And what extra steps we need to take to get to that level.”

As Kiernan points out, “It’s a really exciting time at the club”. That said, there’s very little interaction with Jurgen Klopp’s first-team. There’s much more with Tranmere as they play and train at their facilities, Prenton Park and The Campus, while the Reds men’s team are based at Kirkby and Anfield.

All things Liverpool return to the forefront of the Irish trio’s mind, after international duty at the Pinatar Cup in Spain.

Vera Pauw’s finished the friendly tournament in third place after wins over Poland and Wales and a narrow defeat to Russia, as preparations ramped up for the resumption of their 2023 World Cup qualification against Sweden in April.

It came as Campbell’s first involvement in the Irish squad after quite some time out with injury, so having Fahey and Kiernan in camp made life a lot easier for her. The other pair agree that it’s great to have one another at both club and country, the “friendly faces” and “bit of craic” always a joy, according to Fahey.

It was in the Pinatar opener against Poland that the Galway native won her 100th cap; an incredible feat for an incredible player, and person. 

“Ah, it’s unbelievable,” Campbell nods. “I think she’s a credit and a testament to how far this game has come within the national team. She’s been there the whole way through; she’s a mainstay and she’s incredible.

tottenham-hotspur-v-liverpool-continental-womens-league-cup-quarter-final-the-hive Fahey in action last month. Source: PA

“I mean, I’ve looked up to her since I was a kid coming in and I know many, many of the players do as well. To be able to see or collect that 100th cap was incredible. Thankfully some of her family were able to get over and see her as well, which was nice.

“She’s not finished yet, she has a lot more to go but it’s great to have her in the squad. Her energy like, I don’t even know what to say: Everybody just knows who Niamh Fahey is and what she brings to the squad, and on the pitch as well. She’s incredible.”

Likewise, Fahey had a few kind words for Campbell upon her return — and, of course, for Kiernan: “Leanne is flying, top goal-scorer and she is getting better every game, I am so happy for her as she’s had a tough couple of years with injury.”

Same applies for Campbell, only perhaps tougher. “It’s huge that Megan is thankfully fit again, and hopefully now for her, she gets a run of good luck as well.

“She’s battled back really well this season for Liverpool, since she’s come back after Christmas she’s had such an amazing effect with us with assists and getting us over the line in a couple of games.

“Especially with that long-throw, she’s so crucial from set-pieces. But not only that, she’s a fantastic footballer, so she’s a massive asset to have for Liverpool and also back in with the Irish team.”

That makes three of them. And another on the staff.

The Irish contingent central to Liverpool’s promotion bid and FA Cup dream.

See sport differently with The42 Membership and get closer to the stories that matter with exclusive analysis, insight and debate. Click here to find out more>

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Emma Duffy

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