Am­ber Bar­rett is de­ter­mined to make the grade

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - FRONT PAGE - MARIE CROWE

‘This time last year I wouldn’t have scored against Slo­vakia’

AM­BER BAR­RETT is a breath of fresh air. When we meet, her face is full of smiles and burst­ing with en­thu­si­asm — just as it was when she cel­e­brated wildly af­ter scor­ing against Slo­vakia in Tal­laght Sta­dium last week­end.

Not only was it a first in­ter­na­tional goal for Bar­rett, it sealed vic­tory for the Re­pub­lic of Ire­land women’s team in a cru­cial World Cup qual­i­fier. But in ways the goal sig­ni­fied so much more than that: it was the mo­ment the young Done­gal woman emerged as a na­tional sports star. Af­ter the game she was the cen­tre of at­ten­tion but she took it in her stride.

Bar­rett is only 22 but she speaks with a ma­tu­rity be­yond her years. The former Gaelic foot­baller is com­fort­able dis­cussing any topic and is happy to share an opin­ion on things most young stars would shy away from. And it is she who first broaches the sub­ject of her fit­ness and physique.

“Up un­til Peamount this year I hadn’t done a pre-sea­son with a team in four years,” she says. “I was do­ing the soc­cer sea­son from Septem­ber to Jan­uary. Done­gal had started their pre-sea­son in Oc­to­ber and then the league started in Fe­bru­ary. I was go­ing all the way through the sum­mer play­ing Gaelic and then Peamount would start again.

“That didn’t help me; I was al­ways play­ing at a level but I could never get up past it be­cause I was miss­ing the base­line fit­ness. Even now hav­ing done a pre-sea­son with Peamount I’ve no­ticed a huge dif­fer­ence com­ing in for the first cou­ple of games fit­ness-wise.

“I’m still in a po­si­tion that I know I need to be a lot fit­ter for what I need to do, it’s some­thing I need to work very, very hard on but in com­par­i­son to other years at the start of the league I’m miles ahead. Even the per­for­mance against Slo­vakia shows me that be­cause I’ve done that bit of ex­tra work, I’ve been given an op­por­tu­nity.

“This time last year I wouldn’t have scored against Slo­vakia. I don’t doubt that. I wouldn’t have had it in me. To be hon­est there is weight to lose — I need to tone up, and when you look at the likes of Nether­lands and the shape that they are in I’m miles be­hind them. That’s not dis­re­spect­ful to me, that’s just the fact of the mat­ter. I’m com­pet­ing against them so I need to get there.

“It’s a very del­i­cate sit­u­a­tion to say it to a girl that you might need to lose a few pounds be­cause they might think you are call­ing them fat. That’s not it. If you stood me be­side Lieke Martens we are miles apart yet we are play­ing a sim­i­lar po­si­tion. Even Leanne Kier­nan, there is a big dif­fer­ence be­tween me and Leanne.

“I’ll never be Leanne’s size but at the same time I need to make sure that I’m not car­ry­ing ex­tra bag­gage on my back that will in­hibit me play­ing against the best that I can. Per­son­ally I be­lieve that a 100 per cent fit Am­ber Bar­rett can be very, very good. I be­lieve that, I just need to knuckle down now.”

Bar­rett is liv­ing in digs in Dublin and do­ing a masters in ed­u­ca­tion in DCU. Prior to that she did her un­der­grad­u­ate de­gree in NUI Maynooth. Like most young athletes she knows that jug­gling col­lege with elite sport can be chal­leng­ing. Lessons have to be learned and sac­ri­fices made.

“I have made progress, but still have ground to make up. When I was study­ing in Maynooth, a bit of me slipped into a so­cial scene, not in a bad way but there were nights out. I know now that if you want to get to the level where I want to be at the nights out will be ir­reg­u­lar but I’m OK with that, it’s the sac­ri­fice I want to make.

“Since I’ve met Colin [Bell, man­ager], there have been huge changes and he still en­cour­ages me to keep go­ing. He just wants the best for me, I want the best for me and for the team. I know if I am on my game I will help the team. Colin says give your­self the best op­por­tu­nity to be the best you can be, and that comes down to nutri­tion, and training. That is some­thing I will be work­ing ex­tremely hard on now ahead of the Nor­way games.”

It’s just over a year since Bar­rett de­cided to fo­cus on soc­cer. She had tried to jug­gle in­ter-county foot­ball with Done­gal and top-level soc­cer with Peamount. She doesn’t drive so there were many hours spent on buses trav­el­ling around the country for games and training.

She didn’t think too much about it though, as she didn’t know any dif­fer­ent. But even­tu­ally her health suf­fered, and early last year she was struck down by glan­du­lar fever and she missed al­most five weeks of col­lege. When she re­cov­ered she got back on the pitch as quickly as she could.

A cou­ple of months later Bar­rett was play­ing for Peamount against Kilkenny and af­ter that game she got word that Bell wanted to meet her for a chat. They met in the Ci­ty­west Ho­tel. Bell told Bar­rett that he was im­pressed with her but also said that if she wanted to cut it at in­ter­na­tional level she would have to make some changes.

“He never told me that I should stop play­ing Gaelic but he did tell me that I was go­ing to be com­pet­ing against other girls who are ded­i­cat­ing their whole lives to play­ing soc­cer. There are girls do­ing eight or nine soc­cer ses­sions a week; I’d do three Gaelic ses­sions and two soc­cer ses­sions. He put no pres­sure on me but I knew straight away I had to stop play­ing Gaelic and I had such a big op­por­tu­nity and I wanted to give it my all.”

At that time Done­gal were go­ing well. They reached the Na­tional League Di­vi­sion 1 fi­nal but Bar­rett had her mind made up and pulled out of the panel. She was de­ter­mined to chase her dream of play­ing for Ire­land at se­nior level.

Fast-for­ward to last week and Bar­rett was a hero af­ter her stun­ning goal. Her hard work and ded­i­ca­tion paid off. But with this sta­tus comes scru­tiny and Bar­rett has al­ready learned a lit­tle about that.

When the ball went into the net in Tal­laght she pulled her jersey over her head and ran to the cor­ner flag wear­ing her green base-layer top, car­ry­ing her jersey in her hand. Although most of the at­ten­tion she re­ceived af­ter the game was pos­i­tive there were some peo­ple who took is­sue with her cel­e­bra­tion and made their feel­ings known on­line.

“I got a bit of flak, it wasn’t planned. It’s not some­thing I think I would do again,” says Bar­rett. “I value a lot the kind of per­son I am and the morals I have. It’s not an image that I want peo­ple to look at and have that per­cep­tion of me. Emo­tions were run­ning high and I did it with­out think­ing. I know a lot of young girls have high re­gard for me and that’s not what I want them to think of. I want them to think of the goal scored, not ev­ery­thing that came af­ter.

“On so­cial me­dia peo­ple re­flected on it and there were some neg­a­tive com­ments but I re­ally don’t care about them. I don’t think about the neg­a­tive com­ments about the cel­e­bra­tion but I think about the achieve­ment of scor­ing the win­ner in an im­por­tant World Cup qual­i­fier. I just don’t know why peo­ple bother writ­ing some of the stuff they do.”

Bar­rett’s grounded na­ture is a tes­ta­ment to her up­bring­ing. Her par­ents have al­ways been supportive. Grow­ing up in a sports-mad house in Done­gal she was hap­pi­est when play­ing out­side with her two broth­ers. And her tal­ents weren’t re­served for just team sports: she was a talented sprinter and long-jumper and has a hand­ful of All-Ire­land medals to prove it.

As for the fu­ture, Bar­rett is fo­cused on the up­com­ing Nor­way games and achiev­ing World Cup qual­i­fi­ca­tion with Ire­land. When she fin­ishes col­lege she plans on test­ing her­self in the pro­fes­sional game, maybe in Eng­land, but she’s open to trav­el­ling fur­ther afield.

The 22-year-old is a big Manch­ester United fan and their plans for a women’s team in­trigue her. No mat­ter what path Bar­rett chooses to fol­low, she will work hard to suc­ceed. That’s her way.

Although most of the at­ten­tion Am­ber Bar­rett re­ceived af­ter the Slo­vakia game was pos­i­tive, there were some peo­ple who took is­sue with her cel­e­bra­tion. Photo: Tony Gavin

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