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Dublin: 8 °C Thursday 4 June, 2020

'She’s more of a role model to me than I am to her. She's just incredible, everything she's going through'

Louise Quinn opened up about life as a role model and shared a truly touching story at the 20×20 launch.

CONVERSATION IS GREAT and all but let’s be real, it’s all about action.

And Louise Quinn firmly agrees.

Louise Quinn 15/10/2018 Louise Quinn at the 20x20 launch. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

That’s what the new 20×20 campaign aims to do: increase media coverage, boost attendances and ultimately, grow involvement in female sport by 20% by the end of 2020.

After an insightful morning of speeches and panel discussions as the initiative was launched at Google HQ on Monday, it’s over to the ambassadors for media interviews.

Ireland international Quinn, obviously delighted to be chosen as Three’s representative for the campaign, almost floats into the room, grinning from ear to ear as she settles into her seat.

She’s spoken about it many times before, she’ll speak about it many times again; championing women and girls in sport is something the Blessington native has a burning passion for.

28-year-old Quinn has seen it all. She’s well versed to discuss the topic having plied her trade on home soil, in Sweden and in England. It’s nice to have that element of comparing and contrasting to add more to the debate.

She’s played for club and country, been instrumental for both standing at six foot at centre back and is currently making waves in the Women’s Super League (WSL) with Arsenal.

The logical starting point for the conversation is how, from when she started out, has she seen things improve. How much, how little, have they at all?

“When I started off, it was first in Sweden,” Quinn begins, as she maps her professional career. “It’s such an equal and diverse country.

“The club set out for us to be role models and advertise ourselves, they advertised us and got the community so on board with us — it was crazy.

Louise Quinn with fans Signing autographs and meeting the fans. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“It was simple little things: going to all the community events, going to the schools, our social media, having little player cards that you can give out. It started building a fan club, they were able to sell merchandise. It really grew the game and that started a girl’s football academy in the town that was never there before.

“We would go to it and we would be coaching 100 girls on a freezing Swedish morning where it’s minus four degrees. You’d be there, you’d do it and you loved it. I didn’t speak great Swedish all the time, so I used to just wing it.

“I’ve learned so much from Sweden. How to help promote a team if you don’t have the resources and the money.”

Closer to home then, she continues.

Across the water to England first, and then on to her club Peamount in the Women’s National League (WNL) here.

“Looking from a different perspective in England where the social media side of things is really strong but sometimes, when I look at the crowds — we’re Arsenal — we played yesterday (on Sunday), Arsenal v Chelsea and there were 2,000 people there which is quite good but it’s Arsenal v Chelsea and it’s in London.

“At the same time, there was no men’s football going on, there’s an international break; how can you get those fans involved? I just think of all those things I learned in Sweden and was a part of — how simple it can be.

“That’s exactly what you want to translate back to Ireland, to my club Peamount. It can be as simple as getting out to schools, doing coaching classes, getting involved in any sort of community action that you can. Once the community know you’re there, it can connect and bring everyone together.

Louise Quinn with Lieke Martens and Stephanie van der Gragt In action against Holland last year. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“I’ve been lucky to have seen real growth. It’s something that I want to see with Peamount. I was there for ten years and we were a team that was winning trophies — that’s slipped off. In general, the National League needs that support and promotion. Peamount have the facilities and everything there, a lot of youth teams.

“These sort of initiatives can push it on. It’s about involving people, coaching them how to promote their clubs and having the people that are willing to put the time and effort in.

“I actually do see myself as a role model now and I desperately want to be one; inspire people, inspire kids. It’s something I’ve been fortunate to do.”

And then a very, very important name comes up in conversation: Freya.

Back in February, Freya Fitzpatrick and her Larkview U13 team made the trip to London to watch an Arsenal game. 

“There’s a young girl, Freya and she’s just class and her family are class,” she explains. “We just figured out these little things in common that we have.

“She’s just sports mad in every sense. She’s a big supporter of the Irish team as well and she plays centre-back.

“It was a natural thing. The Irish team coming over, I was one of the Irish players on the team. She’s watching the Irish games.”

A relationship formed, a bond built.

But a few short weeks later — two months to be precise — the Fitzpatrick family were struck with some devastating news. And Quinn remembers the April day she connected the dots.

“Unfortunately, it was just a couple of months later..… Basically, it was after an Arsenal game and one of our team operations (staff members), she just came up and asked could I sign one of my jerseys?

“I was just like, ‘Cool. Where’s the jersey going? What am I signing for?’

“She was like, ‘It’s kind of sad. It’s for a girl that has a brain tumour. She’s Irish and she lives in Dublin.’ I’m like, ‘Tell me her name and her contact details.’

“I got a couple of little messages from people that I know saying, ‘There’s this girl, Freya, she plays for this club. She’s a big fan and, unfortunately, she’s taken ill.’

“Just straight away, I wanted to be there.”

Her voice cracks slightly, her eyes gloss over, you can see just how much this young girl and that once in a lifetime connection means to Quinn.

“She’s given me this necklace,” she continues as she shows it off proudly. “I can’t take it off. It’s just all these little things.

“For me to be able to connect with Freya… She’s more of a role model to me than I am to her. She’s just incredible, her family are brilliant with everything they’re going through.

“She’s like a mini-me, but she is just as tall as me. We are really similar in ways. It brings everyone together and to be part of this initiative is just huge.

“If I can keep that going on every level. Just to be a role model. As they were saying, everyone’s a role model in every turn of life.”

There’s some brilliant pictures of the double act on social media as well as a wonderful video of Quinn inviting the young footballer to be mascot for Ireland’s European Championships qualifier against Norway in June.

Source: FAI TV/YouTube

The memories have been something else. And for Quinn, it just puts everything into perspective.

“Even how she talks about football,” she adds. “I was asking her about the Irish game, when we played Poland (last week). It was a tough loss. I was just asking her opinion and she was just like, ‘There needs to be more connection between the midfield and the forwards.’ I was just like, ‘Yeah, you’re so right.’

“We just want to inspire young girls, young boys, give these kids confidence and strength. It’s something as well that’s Three’s initiative as well. Obviously, they’re a phone company, they want to connect people, that’s what they’re always doing.

“To be able to connect people together and give them strength, confidence, new skills. That’s why I think it’s great for me to have Three backing me like this.”

It works both ways though, she’s backing them and representing them in the best light possible. 

She’s confident and assuring as she speaks, the two journalists before her hanging onto her every word. 

There’s a slight joke made about a possible future in marketing for the former Notts County player, referring back to the insight she gave of her time at Eskilstuna United in Sweden.

The strategy they implemented, could that be done here?

She’s certain of it.

“That’s the thing, some of it is just so simple. It is, it’s investment of your own time. When I first went to Eskilstuna, there was 200 people at a game. Then you’re getting up to 600 people.

“By the end we were consistently 2-2,500. The last game of the season there was over 6,000, they had to put extra seats into the stadium because it wasn’t big enough. That’s how far we took it.

“It was getting to the stage where us, as players, the club had to make a timetable for all of us to split up all the events and everything that we were going to. Myself, I’d be doing something maybe once every two weeks but there was 18 girls so there was always something you’d be going to – the local shopping centre, a few different schools, and that was a consistent.

United Kingdom: Arsenal v Liverpool FC - Women's Super League One In action for Arsenal. Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

“Obviously just going to the schools was so important and being there for the kids. Then that takes parents to be involved and if they see that their child is aspiring to be one of those players on the pitch, that’s exactly what you want.

“It grows everything, it all comes hand-in-hand. It’s definitely an investment in time and hopefully can build up then and it will be an investment of money. I think it definitely just starts with a lot of personal graft and all of that stuff.”

Personal graft, but something that is by every mean, very possible, and well and truly pays off.

As they still call her in Sweden, The Mighty Quinn.

20×20 is a new campaign is calling on the people of Ireland and all those involved in Irish sport and physical activity to get behind female sport in a concerted effort to increase media coverage, boost attendances and ultimately, grow involvement in female sport and physical activity by 20% by the end of 2020. 

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Emma Duffy

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