Rising Star

'He told me that I was Ireland captain and then the Debs went out the window!'

FAI U19 Player of the Year Niamh Farrelly has had a remarkable rise through the ranks.

IT SAYS A lot about Niamh Farrelly’s meteoric, and extremely rapid, rise that she has to pause and think for a moment when our conversation starts on the topic of last weekend.

Aviva Soccer Sisters Easter Football Festival Launch Niamh Farrelly. Sam Barnes / SPORTSFILE Sam Barnes / SPORTSFILE / SPORTSFILE

It was a good one?

“Yeah, it was,” she responds, almost in autopilot — as she has to be at times in this absolute whirlwind — before it registers with her what exactly happened, and the laughter follows.

“I had to think about it there. It was a good weekend. Getting the U19 Player of the Year was special. I’m delighted.”

While the Dublin youngster had the dream start to 2019 with a first senior international start, her underage international career was rounded off pretty fittingly at Sunday night’s FAI awards.

The highs and lows, the ups and downs, the good days and the not so good, all culminated to this moment: honoured among the country’s football elite.

And it was a moment she enjoyed immensely with her family.

“It was great to have my Mam and Dad there. Obviously, I wouldn’t be successful without them. It was nice to have them with me.”

Looking out on the Aviva Stadium turf at the launch of the 2019 Aviva Soccer Sisters Easter Football Festival, 19-year-old Farrelly settles into the conversation more and more with every word she utters. Wise beyond her years, she radiates this sense of maturity and gratitude for how far she’s come and how much she’s achieved over a short period of time.

Niamh Farrelly Holding the Women's U19 International Player of the Year award. Bryan Keane / INPHO Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

To appreciate just that, one must go back to the very beginning. To where it all started. To her home in Lucan, and to her family and friends who have been there from day dot.

“In the estate with the boys,” she smiles as the childhood memories come flooding back. “My brother and stuff like that, that’s where it all started.

“That’s where I’d play most of my football. Every day after school I’d be be out with the boys on the green or on the street.

“One day, my brother was up playing with Beech Park and I went up. Street Leagues were on or something and I just jumped in. I joined the team and it went from there.”

She was six or seven at the time,  unsure of her precise age. But one thing she is sure of is the fact that she was football mad and loved nothing more than playing with the boys week in, week out. Also a talented Gaelic footballer, she lined out with Lucan Sarsfields until her first year in secondary school, but gave it up when things got too hectic.

Looking back fondly, she notes that she did really enjoy it and she does miss it but her beloved soccer just came first. Around that same time, Farrelly made the move to Peamount United after a year at Esker Celtic, as the age of splitting into boy’s teams and girl’s teams arose.

“I didn’t really want to do that at the time but it paid off,” the highly-rated midfielder grins now, having excelled at Peamount ever since.

Niamh Farrelly Farrelly's first involvement with the senior squad came in November 2017. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

She’s a player that has it all; athleticism, pace and power with her sheer presence around the middle becoming the heartbeat of any team lucky enough to have her. That became evident fairly quickly when she entered the Irish underage ranks and from there, powered her way up.

Her pride in representing her country is clearly evident, that feeling of pulling on the green jersey time and time again through the years incomparable.

“It’s a great feeling. It’s something that I’ve dreamed of. Back in the day, if you came up to me in Beach Park and told me that one day I’d be wearing the Ireland jersey, I wouldn’t believe you. I’d be shocked.

“To come up even from U15s… playing there with the schools squad was so special and then getting the chance to go U16. U17 and U19 were more competitive, so I was hoping that I’d be good enough to get there.”

Well, she got there and further, but it wasn’t all plain sailing. There were low points, or ‘setbacks,’ as she puts them, She’s well aware that she had to weather those storms though to fully appreciate the highs. 

After being involved for qualification, Farrelly didn’t make the squad for the finals of the Uefa U17 European Championships in Iceland in 2015. Gutted at the time, it may have been a blessing in disguise.

Still really only an U16, she was also playing a year up: “Not that I didn’t appreciate it, but it was all coming so fast and stuff like that.

Niamh Farrelly On the ball with Peamount last November. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

“When I did get the setback, I realised how much it did mean to me, how much I really wanted it. I pushed on and I said, ‘I’m not ever getting dropped from a squad again.’”

Again, if she was told back then that she’d be in Colin Bell’s senior side a few short years later, she wouldn’t believe it. Her incredible exploits as skipper of the U19s, and ultimately her rebound from previous disappointments, made that possible.

Being rewarded with the armband is a memory she most definitely won’t ever forget. It was September 2017 and the team were Austria-bound for a camp. She wasn’t overly impressed with the timing however as her Debs fell in the middle of it all. 

Two days before they left, manager Dave Connell called her in.

“He told me that I was Ireland captain and then the Debs went out the window! I didn’t care one bit once I got told that. It was special.”

That November, she got her first taste of the senior set-up when she was called into the side for their famous 0-0 draw with European Champions The Netherlands in Nijmegen.

A late injury meant Farrelly travelled with the team and while she wasn’t named on the bench or anything like that, it was invaluable experience for the then-18-year-old.

“For that to be my first camp… Jesus. When I think back, it was pretty good,” she says, adding that even being in and around the best of the best was surreal.

Niamh Farrelly celebrates after the game Celebrating Peamount's Continental Tyres Women's League Cup final win in September. Oisin Keniry / INPHO Oisin Keniry / INPHO / INPHO

“If you said a few years ago that I’d be training with Louise Quinn and stuff like that, I’d be like, ‘Jesus, that’s unbelievable.’ Even just walking around the hotel, seeing how they act, how they eat, what they do on a day to day basis.

“When you’re in camp, you’re constantly just learning from every aspect. Obviously the same on the training pitch and when the match is being played, you’re learning from them. It’s a big learning curve but it’s great to play with them.”

Since then, she’s learned more and more from Bell and his squad of players and noticed serious improvements in her game from the various different camps and intense home-based training sessions.

But her significant breakthrough came in January when she made her senior debut against Belgium.

“When I came on in the last few minutes, it was crazy. My heart was beating, I don’t think it’s ever beat as fast. It’s great to be involved and around the squad, but obviously to come on the pitch was amazing.”

With the upcoming Euro 2021 qualifying campaign a massive target as the Girls In Green hope to seal a spot at a first-ever major tournament, Farrelly’s excitement and passion shines through as she lets her mind wander down the line. 

Aviva Soccer Sisters Easter Football Festival Launch Niamh Farrelly and Isibeal Atkinson at today's Aviva Soccer Sister Easter Football Festival launch. Sam Barnes / SPORTSFILE Sam Barnes / SPORTSFILE / SPORTSFILE

Coming towards the end of her first year of a sports science degree in DCU, it’s probably easier for her to focus on the present as she manages her club, college and country football commitments, her individual training, study and life, in general, off the pitch.

It’s all go, but she’s enjoying it all and that’s the main thing. 

Much of her concentration at the minute is of course on Peamount’s Women’s National League campaign. The Greenogue outfit kicked off proceedings with a win over Cork City, before their visit to Galway was postponed last weekend.

With the likes of ex-internationals Karen Duggan and Áine O’Gorman forming the backbone of the team, Farrelly is honoured to have examples like those so close to home.

“Sometimes you just think, ‘Jesus, the amount they have achieved’ and you’re training with them and playing right beside them. You wouldn’t dream of it. It’s great.” 

“It’s deadly playing with Karen, her telling me where to go all the time,” she laughs of her partner in crime in midfield. “She’s a great player and she’s a good role model to have, especially playing beside her. You couldn’t ask for anyone better I suppose.”

More than pleased to be back in action with the club scene in full-flow, she hopes that Peas can carry through the momentum from towards the end of last year to this campaign.

Niamh Farrelly with Aisling Frawley In full flight in the 2018 FAI Cup final. Tommy Dickson / INPHO Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

The curtain came down on 2018 on a sour note at the same venue as she sits today, a defeat to Wexford Youths in the FAI Cup final. While her first playing appearance at the Aviva didn’t just go as she had hoped, there’ll no doubt be many more to come. 

“Very disappointing, yeah,” she concedes. “I don’t know. It just didn’t happen on the day, I suppose.

“All the team is raring to go this year and hopefully we’ll get back here. Obviously the league is a big target but definitely, I’d love to come back here and go one step further: get the trophy.”

The past isn’t there to be dwelled on.

And setbacks, as Farrelly knows well, just drive you on more and more. 

Just like before, she’ll keep on pushing.

Murray Kinsella and Andy Dunne dissect Ireland’s disappointing Six Nations campaign, and discuss the pros and cons of rugby’s new law proposals in the latest episode of The42 Rugby Weekly:

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