Interview: Amber Barrett – at the top of her game

Amber Barrett has already had an extensive career in club and international football. She also has a teaching degree. She spoke with Niall Gormley

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27 June 2022; Amber Barrett of Republic of Ireland during the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 Qualifier match between Georgia and Republic of Ireland at Tengiz Burjanadze Stadium in Gori, Georgia. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Amber Barrett has been playing top-level football for half a decade, having made her international debut for Ireland back in 2017. In that year she was also the Irish Women’s National League (WNL) Player of the Year as well as top goal scorer. She was also the WNL top scorer  the following year in 2018.

When we spoke at the end of August, Amber was heading into perhaps the most important period her career. Ireland’s national women’s team was on the cusp of qualification for the FIFA Women’s World Cup to be held in Australia and New Zealand in 2023, with two crucial qualifying matches to go in order for the national side to reach its first major tournament.

At the same time Amber is starting a new phase of her club football career with Turbine Potsdam in Germany, who finished fourth last year in the Frauen-Bundesliga. She transferred there after a three year spell with FC Cologne, with whom she made 46 appearances and scored 16 goals.

The international scenario

First up is the internationals and what is at stake is a place in the qualifiers for the World Cup. In Ireland’s group Sweden has already claimed the automatic qualification place at the top of the group table, leaving a tussle between Ireland and Finland for second. The two countries have to play each other next and Tallaght Stadium is sold out for the tie at the start of September.

I asked Amber if a draw would be the aim. “I think you could never back yourself for a draw because the risk of anything going wrong is increased. Every game we go out to win. We won in Finland and having 8,000 fans supporting us that will give us an extra push,” she says.

Women’s football is undergoing rapid development with its participation rates and profile soaring. Ireland narrowly missed out on qualification to the recent European championships and Amber says that they kept a close eye on the recent ‘Euros’.

“With the Euros we got an opportunity to see what we were missing out on, what needs to change. There were a couple of teams at the Euros who were on the same level as us and have progressed a little bit further than us. As much as it was disappointing to have missed out we took a lot from the tournament.”

Moving clubs

So qualification for the World Cup would be huge for both Amber and Ireland. But as a professional footballer,  her bread and butter is in club football. Three years ago she joined FC Koln and when her contract was up this summer she had to go through the fraught process of getting a new contract and club.

“It’s an uncomfortable time,” she says. “There’s days when you hear nothing from clubs and you wonder ‘have I wasted three years of my life in Cologne’ and the next day you don’t put the phone down because you’re on to different people and teams.”

“Thankfully I got a move I would have very much wanted at the start of the summer, including staying in Germany, as I’ve built up a good relationship with the German league”. 

She also realised the value of professional advice and hired an agent to do much of the negotiations.

Moving club and moving cities is a big part of the life of a professional footballer and Amber acknowledges the challenges.

“When I moved to Cologne, I went over there with absolutely no German and you’re playing with predominantly German players and the language was one of the hardest things to deal with.

“I went to lessons once a week but you’d be surprised how much German you learn just by listening to other people. Football is a universal language so one thing I picked up immediately was the in-game instructions. To go left or right, to push up or drop back, to play one touch or two touch: when you hear those words you can work the rest out for yourself.”

Now that she has arrived in Potsdam, Amber says that there are a wider number of nationalities there and her German is better than many of the others.

“When I went to Germany first I was told: ‘The more  German you learn, the better you’ll play’, and It’s true that you fit in better and you’re more comfortable with the playing environment.”

Amber’s sporting background is mainly in gaelic football, which she played with her native Milford and Donegal until she was 21. But she was also involved in athletics which she now thinks is a major part of her game both for endurance running and for pace.

She still follows Donegal closely as she knows a lot of the players and attended some of the games when she was home in the summer.

Also in the teaching game

Before she embarked on full-time football, Amber completed her degree in teaching and she thinks that many other players would have been better positioned had they finished their education first.

“It’s definitely one of the best decisions that I’ve made, to complete the degree that I wanted to do and be able to use that in the future. I’m also doing my coaching badge so even if I become involved in sports coaching the teaching background will still stand to me.”

Asked about her advice to girls getting involved in professional sport she says: “I would always say to people ‘get your security net’. Do your Leaving Cert and go to college. 21 is still a very young age in football and you can still have a great career.”

She says that the women’s game still doesn’t have the finances that the men’s game has, but that salaries and opportunities have really improved over the past few years, and that football and sport in general is a great career option for girls.¬†