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Ireland's Brighton star eyeing another memorable night in green to cap big year

As the dream of reaching a first-ever major tournament edges closer to reality, Rianna Jarrett is ready for Ireland’s biggest test yet.

RIANNA JARRETT’S FINEST hour in the green jersey came against them a little over a year ago, but that means very little now as Ireland face their biggest test to date against Ukraine.

Vera Pauw’s side are facing into a decisive Euro 2022 qualifier in Kiev on Friday [KO 5pm Irish time, live on RTÉ 2], with qualification hopes more alive than ever.

rianna-jarrett-celebrates-scoring-her-sides-second-goal Rianna Jarrett was the star against Ukraine last time out. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

A win or draw secures a playoff spot, at least, for the Girls in Green as they look to reach a first-ever major tournament. It’s undoubtedly the biggest game of most of their careers, a “cup final” as Pauw and her players have been calling it.

A huge night, which could be monumental for women’s football on these shores.

Brighton & Hove Albion ace Jarrett is well aware of all that comes with it.

And she’s hoping for another big result against the Ukrainians, just like the last October’s 3-2 over the second seeds in front of a packed house at Tallaght Stadium. That glorious night, the former Wexford Youths striker led the line impeccably, involved in all three goals from provider to scorer.

“It was definitely one of the best for me and as a country as a whole, that day was fantastic,” she smiles, casting her mind back.

“We had a record attendance in Tallaght, we knew Ukraine were ranked higher than us and it was Vera’s first game, new management, new set-up so going into that game there was excitement from all angles.

The performance we showed on the day put us in good stead in how we wanted to play going forward and put us in a great position in the group. To get my first senior international goal is a day I will never forget and the fact we got the three points make it that little bit sweeter.”

It’s been a rollercoaster year since, not only for Ireland through their qualifying campaign, but for 26-year-old Jarrett who signed her first professional contract with the Seagulls in January.

Playing at a higher level now in the Women’s Super League [WSL] and with high-end minutes under her belt, Jarrett is ready to bring her international exploits to the next level. There’s a lot more to come, as she says herself.

A three-time cruciate victim in the past — “physically, I think I’m in the best shape that I’ve been in in my whole career, even before I sustained any of the knee injuries” — the Wexford woman has been enjoying her club football alongside international team-mates Denise O’Sullivan and Megan Connolly, and under another top-level coach in Hope Powell, and is hoping that good run continues on the Irish front.

“It’s fantastic obviously,” Jarrett nods. “We’ve played alongside each other internationally for the last number of years.

“Myself and Denise, we played underage together as well. Funnily enough, the three of us are actually living together as well. It’s always nice to have that familiar face.

For me, it’s obviously my first step-up into a professional environment so I’m really enjoying the fact that I don’t have to go to work and sit at a desk from Monday to Friday for eight hours and then do the training on the side. I’m definitely enjoying that and I’m slowly starting to find my form over there as well.”

After the trio were involved in a hard-fought draw with Everton yesterday and captain Katie McCabe was among others on top form with a stunning free-kick in action for Arsenal, the squad surely came into this huge week on a high.

There’s a strong Irish contingent in the English top-flight and others catching the eye further afield, and Jarrett feels that can only be a positive for Pauw’s side.

jarret Jarrett and O'Sullivan celebrate a Brighton goal on Sunday. Source: Brighton Women.

“Obviously confidence is key and that comes from everyone playing. Obviously Katie’s playing in a fantastic Arsenal team this season, they’ve started the league very well and Katie, personally, has been in fine form. You can see that with the goal that she got yesterday.

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“You’ve seen Denise has come into the Women’s Super League and it hasn’t phased her whatsoever. Denise has always shown her quality, no matter where she’s playing and she’s showed that in her short spell that she’s been in with Brighton as well.

Obviously I have the luxury of seeing it day in, day out in training but others are now starting to see Denise on that world stage in the Women’s Super League and it’s fantastic.

“You look at Amber Barrett in Germany, her team have started the league fantastically. She’s got three goals in three games. It’s important that we’re all confident coming into camp and obviously that confidence will all feed into each other.

“We just need everybody in their best form going into Friday and we’ll see what happens then.”

Friday night, that’s what it’s all about. A massive occasion, the time of game that every aspiring footballer dreams of.

The expectation and pressure is a privilege, Jarrett smiles, but it’s something she and her team-mates don’t feel, or dwell on too much.

“Obviously we’ve put ourselves in this position through our performances, we haven’t been relying on anyone else. It’s great that we’re in this position and going into Friday’s game, it’s in our hands.

In terms of that, yes, there’s added pressure. There’s always going to be pressure in a game like that, but we’ll use it to our advantage. It’s important that we don’t let the occasion get to us, that we stick to the game plan, that we’re all singing from the same hymn sheet, all focused and prepared.” 

While she feels their hosts will a “different outfit” after they underestimated Ireland last time out, Jarrett and her side will concentrate on their own game plan, building on the attacking game Pauw has implemented since taking charge 12 months ago.

The Vera Era has brought great joy so far, but a result on Friday would be a landmark step. They’re certainly on the cusp of something very special.

rianna-jarrett-and-lina-magull Facing Germany in their last qualifier in Essen. Source: Tim Groothuis/INPHO

“We have always said that women’s football is moving in the right direction,” Jarrett concludes. “There is still a lot to do but as long as keep moving forward and seeing the progress, that is the important part.

“As a nation, we’ve seen the disappointment of the men’s team in the playoffs and that still hurts me after watching that game. It was a fantastic performance by the men and they were just so unlucky, but for us we have put ourselves in a great position but we know there’s a lot more to do.

“Friday’s game is massive, we know exactly what’s at stake but if we can get the job done and get to that playoff, it’s a major thing for the country and if we can, it will boost a lot of people in terms of what’s going on at the minute.

“We know the task ahead. It will be a difficult, difficult game but one we’re looking forward to. It is like a cup final, a winner-takes-all sort of a job so it’s going to be a tough one, but one that we’re certainly ready for.”

No doubt about that.

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Emma Duffy

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