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'You realise that football needs to take the backseat' - The Ireland star whose pro dream came to a cruel halt

Rianna Jarrett enjoyed a dream debut at Brighton, but it proved to be her only outing for the Seagulls.

FOOTBALL — AND THE entire word — has endured a whirlwind few months, but Rianna Jarrett has been on more of a rollercoaster ride than most other footballers.

After making waves on these shores with Wexford Youths and in the green jersey, the Ireland striker signed her first professional contract in January. She joined Women’s Super League [WSL] side Brighton & Hove Albion on a six-month deal, one which would see her see out the season at the Seagulls.

jarrett Rianna Jarrett scored twice on her Brigton debut. Source: Brighton & Hove Albion/Rianna Jarrett Twitter.

An unfortunate three-time cruciate victim in the past, Jarrett struggled with a small niggle when she crossed the water initially but when her chance on the big stage came six weeks in, she well and truly grabbed it with both hands.

The 25-year-old hit the ground running on her debut with a stunning two-goal FA Cup haul. Bursting with confidence heading into the international break, she starred for Vera Pauw’s side in crucial back-to-back Euro qualifier wins.

But then everything came to a standstill due to the Covid-19 crisis.

That debut victory over Crystal Palace turned out to be Jarrett’s only game for Brighton, with the WSL season ending with immediate effect earlier this week. 

“I suppose everyone’s kind of in the same boat kind with uncertainty and life in all aspects has come to a standstill,” she tells The42 from Slaneyside, where she’s living with her brother through lockdown. ”But I suppose for me, it was a little bit different.

“I signed my first professional contract the end of January, managed to play one game for Brighton. We went into the international break, I got back to Brighton for two days and I came home to Ireland then because everything kind of escalated with the pandemic.

It was a bit strange in terms of coming and going but look, I’m safe and my family is safe, which is the key thing at this time.

Of course, it has been frustrating and it’s a case of terrible timing, but Jarrett — who’s hopefully of extending her Brighton deal — is counting her lucky stars and looking at everything with a real sense of perspective. It’s certainly not the end of the world.

“I suppose at times like this, you realise that football does need to take the backseat,” she nods. “Ultimately that is what happened all over the world. Safety comes first and foremost for for everyone.

“I was happy that I got to come home to Wexford when I could before things escalated and the lockdown was set into place in the UK and Ireland. I have the comfort of my own home while all this uncertainty is going on, so I’m thankful for that.”

rianna-jarrett-celebrates-scoring-her-sides-second-goal Jarrett after scoring her first Ireland goal in October. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

While the decision to end the WSL with immediate effect was a disappointing one, Jarrett feels it was the right call — although its cruelly cut her debut season in England short.

“Obviously it’s a shame. We all wanted to finish the season, we didn’t want it to stop in the first place but it was stopped because of the pandemic; the safety of players, staff and the public as well. 

“The FA, the Women’s Super League and everyone have been working quite closely over the last couple of weeks to figure out a way to see if it was possible to get the women’s game back, to see if they could do it safely, get us all back training safely first and foremost and then back playing matches safely. But ultimately, they couldn’t come to a plan on that.

They weren’t willing to put players and staff members at risk, which is rightly so. Unfortunately we wanted to finish the season but when you look at the bigger picture, and you look at things in a wider prospect, it definitely was the right decision for them to cancel the season.

For many, it was a dispiriting decision with the men’s game on course to return across the water. It may show the disparity between the games — with sufficient testing resources available to the Premier League — but Jarrett believes you have to look at the situation on a wider scale.

Obviously in an ideal world, we’d have the same budget and the same access to facilities that the men’s side do. But unfortunately, we don’t and that came down to it.

“But you even look at the Premier League, there’s still issues with that. There’s still uncertainty around it. Yes, teams have gone back training in the last week or so but you’ve still got players voicing their opinion, saying that they still don’t feel like it’s safe to do so.

“On the other hand, you look at the German Bundesliga. Germany were a couple of weeks ahead in terms of how they dealt with the pandemic. The men’s league has been back now for for over a week and the Women’s league is starting back on Friday. You can see they had stuff in place to get players back playing safely.

“It’s good to see that but unfortunately, it was a different situation in the UK.”

rianna-jarrett On the ball for Wexford Youths in the 2019 FAI Cup final. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Her experience at Brighton before the sporting world came to a standstill was incredible though. After establishing herself as one of the best players in the Women’s National League [WNL], Jarrett was destined to join a professional outfit.

Getting a taste of that was brilliant, and an experience she wouldn’t trade for the world.

It was a huge contrast to what she was used to back home: balancing a full-time, Monday to Friday job with her football exploits, for which she trained twice a week with her club and did her own gym and fitness work on the side. “Football was kind of fitting in around work,” she recalls.

But after packing in her 9-5 and landing her dream job, things drastically changed.

“It was great,” Jarrett says.”Brighton are a full-time team so seven days a week, whatever I do can be focused on football. We train in the mornings, we have our gym sessions in the afternoons and most days you’re finished by three o’clock.

“Then the evening is yours to do whatever you feel you need to do, whether it’s recovery or whatever hobbies that you have. So now, my free time in my free time which is something that I haven’t been used to for a number of years.

Obviously it was difficult for me to leave the Youths. I have great memories there, great friends there. Wexford Youths will always be a part of my heart and I will always look out to see to see how they’re doing and stay in touch with both players and management as well. And obviously I wish them all the best for when the Women’s National League does come back into play.

“But it’s been a great experience for me so far. I’ve had a slight taste of that professional environment, hopefully now with the new season starting up, I can get a taste of it again.”

Her future, however, is up in the air, though she’s hoping for some clarity on where she lies with her contract over the coming days.

“I signed a six-month contract initially and we had kind of provisionally said that that would be extended at the end of the season,” she adds.

“Obviously, I need to have talks with them now. We’ll do that over the next couple of days and hopefully, things will be more clear than on where I stand, where the club stands and what their plans are for the upcoming season.

ri1 After scoring on her debut. Source: Brighton & Hove Albion.

“With the pandemic, nobody knows what’s going to happen or how things have changed for clubs. So I should know more in the next day or two.”  

Confident but modestly-so, Jarrett hopes she has done enough in training and in her stunning debut after a tumultuous start.

“I had a little bit of knock when I went over at first so it was gradual, slowly building me into training. I felt that just before the international break, I was slowly starting to find my feet.

Obviously I’m thankful that I did manage to get that FA Cup game and I definitely showed glimpses of what I can do.It was against a Championship team, so it is a different level than than the Superleague but for me, I was happy to get a game. It was my first game since the FAI Cup final in November.

“Then it was it was right before the double-header, the international break as well so it came at perfect timing for me. It was nice to get back on the pitch. 

Unfortunately, literally came to a standstill just after that Montenegro game,” she laughs. “But no, I’m looking forward to getting back in training with a team — hopefully it will be Brighton again — and  getting a full pre-season and a full season under my belt, seeing where I stand then and seeing how I really test at that level.”

Hoping for a return to football sooner rather than later, Jarrett is following a home gym and running programme from Brighton and getting out and about more since restrictions eased last week.

A local club have opened their astroturf pitch to herself, her close friend and Linfield star Ethan Boyle and Youths U17 player Katie Law so the trio are training together at a social distance, enjoying ball sessions put together by Jarrett.

rianna-jarrett-with-fans With Ireland fans in 2018. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

With the news that Ireland’s three remaining Euro qualifiers will be played later this year announced this afternoon, her return may come quicker than she expected — and the Irish striker certainly has no qualms about the finals tournament being postponed until 2021 as her side bid to reach a first-ever major tournament. 

“Obviously it’s nice that they made that decision when they had all the information and pushed the Euros out a year, which obviously gives us all time to improve as a team and improve as individuals,” she concludes.

Obviously we still have three massive qualifiers left to play; the home and away fixture against Germany and then the away fixture against Ukraine. So three massive games in terms of qualification.

“We’ve all been in touch in terms of making sure that we’re all ticking over and making sure that we’re all in the right mind space and and obviously everyone has got programmes from their club but if we need anything extra, the coaching staff and each player is there to help each other out so so that’s been nice and refreshing.

“Look, we will be ready. We’ve put ourselves in a great position and we’re looking to build on that. We know that the job isn’t done yet, there are still three massive games to play but I’m definitely looking forward to hopefully putting on that Irish jersey again.”

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Emma Duffy

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