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Dublin: 6 °C Tuesday 22 October, 2019
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'As a lifelong Liverpool supporter, to get vice-captaincy means a lot to me'

Now, Ireland and Reds star Niamh Fahey is hoping to achieve another lifelong dream, and reach a first-ever major tournament in Euro 2021.

LITTLE DID NIAMH Fahey know when her phone rang on holidays what lay ahead.

niamh-fahey Ireland and Liverpool star Niamh Fahey. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

The Ireland star was happily enjoying the off-season when the name of her Liverpool manager, Vicky Jepson, flashed up on the screen.

Unsure as to what the call would be about, there was probably a little bit of apprehension when the soon-to-be Reds vice-captain for 2019/20 answered.

“I was obviously delighted when my manager gave me a phone call,” Fahey tells The42, taking some time out ahead of this morning’s Ireland training session at Johnstown House.

“She just asked me… I wasn’t expecting it to be honest. It was a nice shock to get on holidays! I thought she was calling to ask if I was keeping fit or that, checking up on me and making sure I was doing my fitness. But no, she asked me so that was great. 

It’s a big honour for me. As a a lifelong Liverpool supporter, to get vice-captaincy with a great group of girls means a lot to me. 

A very proud time for the Galway woman, but also a very proud day for the entire Fahey family. She agrees with a nod, and a smile which says it all.

“Very proud moment for the family. They’re probably not used to seeing too much like that recently, but they were really proud.”

That’s one lifelong dream achieved ahead of a massive few months of Women’s Super League action, but another just around the corner with preparations for Ireland’s opening Euro 2021 qualifier against Montenegro on home soil next Tuesday well underway. 

A new dawn, a new day, and a new chapter as the journey to reach a first-ever major tournament begins once again.

“It feels like it was a long time coming so it’s good to actually be ready to just start, and hopefully get off to a good start at that,” the 31-year-old says, continuing on how important it is to kick off with a win.

“It’s vital. We need three points out of this game. It’s not just that, it’ll be things like goal difference, clean sheets and all that kind of thing. We just really need to get off to a positive start and hopefully we’ll be able to do that next Tuesday.”

fahey Fahey (right), with Reds captain, Sophie Bradley-Auckland, and Vicky Jepson. Source: Liverpool FC/Twitter.

There is some concern away from the set-up, however, given the fact that there’s no permanent manager in place.

The search for Colin Bell’s successor is ongoing following his shock departure in June, with the Englishman’s assistant, Tom O’Connor, assuming the role of caretaker manager. 

But Fahey, like her national team captain, Katie McCabe, says the lack of permanent manager is not a concern for the Girls In Green. It is what it is, and they just want to focus at the job at hand and play good football next Tuesday night at Tallaght Stadium.

“That’s it, like. Tom had us for the USA game, done really well with a lot of new faces and a lot of changes. There’s a good vibe still carrying on from that game, a lot of familiar faces from that one.

Obviously the FAI are in the process of putting someone in place… it’s getting the right person. However long it takes, it doesn’t really matter. 

As she mentions, the mood is good in the camp, and a lot of that stems from their encouraging visit Stateside earlier this month.

Ireland went head-to-head with the world champions at the Rose Bowl and while three first-half goals ultimately sunk them, they certainly held their own in the second half.

Considering the gap was much more significant when they faced USA in 2015 and 2016, Fahey — a defensive midfielder — and her team take confidence in the fact that they’re getting closer and closer.

“The USA, they don’t take any game as a friendly. They’re a quality, quality team and to get to play them like that was great for us. It just shows the level they are at.

“We took a lot of pride in that second half because I think a lot of teams probably crumble against them. We showed our character, strength and resolve, we stuck together and stuck to our tactics, which was no mean feat playing the World champions when everybody was out of season.

“Like that, it was a real confidence-builder for the group.”

niamh-fahey Facing Northern Ireland last August. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The former Arsenal and Chelsea ace, who was also a hugely talented inter-county footballer in her day before going down the professional soccer route, is pleased to see the likes of Stephanie Roche back in the squad after her nightmare injury woes, with newly-signed Manchester City youngster Tyler Toland and Denise O’Sullivan also returning after missing that USA friendly.

Fahey shares her disappointment for ‘exciting prospect’ Clare Shine withdrawing through injury and West Ham’s Leanne Kiernan missing out, but is excited to see an attacking-look to the squad.

The last time Ireland met Montenegro in 2016, they produced a record-equalling 9-0 result at Tallaght, and Fahey feels there’s no reason why they can’t do that again. 

“A lot of the faces have changed since that time but there’s a lot of new, young, promising talent in there, a lot of attacking faces,” she adds. “We’re confident that we can do the same again, a similar performance would be nice.”

And what can be said for a big crowd, to build momentum from the get-go of a new campaign?

It would be brilliant. Obviously when it’s packed in Tallaght and the fans are behind you, it makes such a difference. The girls love it.

“We’ve been getting decent crowds the last couple of games and it really makes a big difference, everyone hopefully can get out again and support us and cheer us on. 

With women’s football on a high around the world after the World Cup in France, it’s important to build on that.

“Obviously the fact we weren’t in it was a disappointment but you could see how much the general public were interested in it.

“It was hot topics on your app,” she giggles, with a nod to The42. “I was reading all the comments and stuff! I think you could see people’s perception of women’s football definitely change with that tournament. I think it was a real breakthrough tournament.

niamh-fahey-with-fans-after-the-game Smiling for a picture with young fans. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“Exposure is huge. The fact that it was broadcast by both RTÉ and TG4 just got it out there and that’s what we need.

It’s not visible enough and it needs to be, because it’s a great sport and a great showcase for all young girls and boys coming up to aspire to. It’s brilliant.

From the crest of a wave the sport is riding to the promising underage coming through on these shores, the amount of girls plying their trade overseas to progressive steps taken in the Women’s Super League, our conversation is all pretty optimistic.

“It’s just really positive at the minute,” Fahey beams.

“Get the results now, that’s what we have to do. All this work is great but if we don’t qualify for a major tournament, it’s not going to mean a whole pile.

“That’s our job now. We have to make sure we get there.”

They’ve come so close in the past, perhaps most so last campaign. Not to get ahead of ourselves, but what would it mean to finally get across the line?

It would definitely be another lifelong dream achieved to reach England 2021, that’s for sure.

That’s it, exactly,” she agrees, with a laugh. “I could retire happy at that stage!

“Everyone wants to get there and everyone’s going to do their part. Whatever we have to do, we’re going to do our absolute utmost to get there.” 

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Emma Duffy

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