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Dublin: 17 °C Sunday 12 July, 2020

After 3 career-threatening injuries, in-form Ireland star feeling like 'the old Rianna' again

The 24-year-old striker has had a tough time in recent years, overcoming numerous setbacks in the process.

Rianna Jarrett pictured at Tallaght Stadium today.
Rianna Jarrett pictured at Tallaght Stadium today.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

THERE HAVE BEEN tears shed, countless hours of hard work and no shortage of resilience, but Rianna Jarrett’s career is now firmly back on track again.

Ireland may have suffered a heartbreaking loss that ended their 2019 World Cup qualifying hopes against Norway in Stavanger last June, but Jarrett could afford to feel proud.

With Colin Bell’s side trailing 1-0, the 24-year-old was introduced in the 83rd minute for just her second cap.

The striker’s international debut against Italy in March 2016 was memorable for the wrong reasons.

She had to be substituted early on after tearing her anterior cruciate ligament. In the past, some footballers who have suffered this injury once have been forced to retire. Jarrett has had to endure three ACL setbacks in total, but it is a testament to her dedication and discipline that she has recovered every time.

It was consequently remarkable to see her lining out for Ireland again, just over two years on from that bittersweet first appearance.

Yet bringing her back into the fold is far from a sentimental call. Jarrett has been in superb form of late, helping to propel Wexford Youths to their current spot at the top of the Women’s National League with five games to play, while the striker is the division’s top scorer, having registered an impressive 25 goals from 16 games. She has also been recently recognised for her feats, winning the Player of the Month award for June.

“It’s a fantastic achievement,” Bell says of her recovery from all those injury setbacks. “It’s something that not many players could actually do.”

He adds: “It’s been important that she’s played the season with Wexford. 

“And we’ve brought her into the camp because she’s in form. She still knows she’s got a lot to do fitness-wise to get up to the level that we need. But she’s definitely moving in the right direction, a 100% fit Rianna Jarrett would be an excellent player, because she’s got a high match intelligence, a very good technique with her feet, but also very powerful in the air, so that’s what we’re aiming for. She is one of Ireland’s top talents.

We just hope now that she stays fit and healthy, but she knows again that that fitness level, the amount of training and intensity to training every week, that has to be much higher to be able to get to the level that we need at international level.”

Jarrett will be hoping to add to her international caps tally as Bell’s team take on Northern Ireland in their final World Cup qualifier, but faces plenty of competition, with Katie McCabe (Arsenal), Leanne Kiernan (West Ham), Amber Barrett (Peamount United), Aine O’Gorman (Peamount United) and Jessica Ziu (Shelbourne Ladies) also vying for a place in attack.

“It’s been a tough couple of years for me personally,” she says. “But the manager putting his faith in me in June for the Norway camp, that was big for me, it was a big confidence boost.

“I’ve been doing well with the club this year. Obviously, it’s always been a goal of mine to be in the international set-up. Now that I’m back into it, I want to try to keep myself there and start fighting for some real game time.

“It’s about what I do, in camp and out of camp. It’s still a work in progress, but I feel I’m going in the right direction and the manager’s put his faith in me again and hopefully I can repay him if or when I’m called upon.”

Colin Bell Colin Bell and members of the Ireland squad pictured training at Tallaght earlier today. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

While Ireland’s hopes of reaching France next year came to an end against Norway and they will finish third in the group regardless of what happens, tomorrow’s game could potentially give Jarrett and others who are not automatic starters a chance to impress at this level. Nevertheless, it is also vital that she maintains her excellent form at club level, as she continues to get fitter following a long spell out. 

“This is the first season I’ve done pre-season with the girls in a long time — I think that’s shown. As the games have gone on and on, I’ve played more 90 minutes and I’m starting to feel like the old Rianna, you could say. But it’s still a work in progress, still not where I need to be, still a long way to go. But once I keep working hard and improving week in week out, we’ve a good coach down in Wexford, and he’s helping — we’re playing an attacking style of football, which suits me as a striker. So I just want the games to keep coming really.

For me, the biggest thing is staying injury free. We’ve come this far in the season, my biggest goal was to start and finish the season — and obviously get a few goals in between, which have been coming thankfully.”

Jarrett has watched on as international colleagues Leanne Kiernan and Heather Payne, as well as former Wexford team-mate Claire O’Riordan, all secured moves abroad recently.

The striker herself is no stranger to living away from home, having spent time at the University of Tennessee at Martin on a scholarship. However, the injuries meant she had to cut short her American stay, subsequently undertaking a degree in sports management and coaching at IT Carlow, before accepting a full-time job with Equifax in Wexford.

The Irish star says she will “re-evaluate” her next step at club level at the end of this season, with simply avoiding another serious injury the most important objective.

For now though, she is primarily focused on tomorrow’s match at Tallaght and vindicating her selection, with the manager keeping a close eye on Jarrett over the past few months during the home-based sessions regularly arranged for squad hopefuls playing their trade in the WNL.

“[The campaign has] been successful in certain terms. In other aspects, you’d look at it and say, there are areas we need to improve.

“But I think the improvement in the last 12-18 months has been huge for the women’s game in Ireland.

“We’re competing with top teams, which maybe hasn’t happened before. We’re looking to improve on that — not only compete with them but also start to take more results off them. That starts with playing Northern Ireland — we started the campaign well against them with a victory and we’re looking to do the same tomorrow.”

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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