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Amber Barrett: ‘I say nothing when I don’t know the full truth ... The social media people should have done the same’

The Republic of Ireland forward reflects on a year of ups and downs - including a World Cup appearance and a public backlash - and tells of her relaunch in Belgium

Bobby Barrett had a heck of a Christmas. After a plane, train and automobile trip from Liege to Milford – “long day for the wee fella” – he luxuriated on hugs, cuddles and a mountain of turkey. But then it was time to return to Belgium, so that his human could resume her season with Standard Liege, just as he was settling in to the rhythms of Donegal life. “He wasn’t too happy heading back up the road.”

Bobby, incidentally, is a cat. His human is Amber Barrett. And over the last few months, he’s played no small part in helping her take her mind off one of the more difficult spells in her footballing career.

“Everyone who saw him in Milford described him as a therapy animal – and he really, really is,” she says. “Because no matter how low you might feel about things, he’s still there purring away. He’s a very soothing animal to have about the place. When I was dropped from the Irish squad, Bobby was sick. I know it’ll sound funny, but that stopped me thinking about me, my only thoughts were for him.”

Barrett, like anyone in sport, has been no stranger to highs and lows through her career, that’s the nature of it, but the distance between the two was more extreme than ever in 2023. “And there were probably a lot more lows than highs, to be honest,” she admits.


Strangely enough, one of her deepest lows came the October before, just after that magical moment in Hampden Park when she scored the goal that sent Ireland to the World Cup.

“There was just a weird sense of feeling flat after that night, it’s hard to describe. It was such an unbelievable high, there was almost a dread that it would never be replicated, that you’d never get to feel that way again. And I wanted to feel that way every time I went out and played. But, of course, it just wasn’t there.”

Her club situation didn’t help. After three seasons with FC Koln, she had moved to Turbine Potsdam, once a major force in German women’s football, in the summer of 2022. But it never worked out, Barrett already struggling for game time even before injuring her shoulder later in December. Potsdam’s season ended in relegation, with Barrett watching the bulk of their struggles from the bench. That predicament put her place in the World Cup squad in danger, an eventuality that seemed unimaginable after Glasgow.

But she made the cut, a fortnight after opting to leave Germany to sign for Standard Liege. The relief was enormous, but the manner in which the squad selection was announced to the players added to what was already a testing build-up to the tournament.

“The situation with Vera was obviously a very difficult one,” she says in reference to manager Vera Pauw talking to The Athletic in July of last year about the allegations that had been made against her after her time in charge of Houston Dash. “It came out at the wrong time for us, but in fairness to the FAI they did their best to make sure the shine wasn’t taken away from us ahead of the World Cup.

“The main problem I would have had with the build-up was the way we were told who was in the squad. The 23 who made it, plus the three training players, were all brought in to the same room. So we were sitting there with Jamie Finn, Harriet Scott and Sophie Whitehouse when they were told they were going to Australia but wouldn’t be part of the squad. That was a very, very difficult moment for everybody. You couldn’t be happy for yourself. Harriet had been playing for Ireland since before I was involved, and Jamie had been instrumental in our qualification campaign. That brought a wee bit of a downer on things. Yeah, that wasn’t good.”

Through it all, the players were facing difficult questions about Pauw’s future, whether or not they wanted her contract renewed. “I’m grateful that I wasn’t one of those put up in front of the media during that time because that had to be draining for the girls, like Katie [McCabe] and Megan [Connolly] who took the brunt of it. The assumption was that we knew what the FAI had decided about Vera – we didn’t, we had no clue.

“And then there was the social media backlash against us because we hadn’t supported Vera publicly. People who say they are able to shut all that out, I don’t really believe them because social media is the loudest thing that exists right now. It’s very difficult to ignore. But I suppose all that came as a result of us having a higher profile after qualifying. Male footballers get that kind of abuse on a daily basis, I hope we never reach that scale.

“Katie got most of the flak. There were even people saying she should be stripped of the captaincy. It was ridiculous. They had no clue what went on between people. International camps are very high pressure situations. I’m someone who says nothing at all when I don’t know the full truth about a situation. The social media people should have done the same.”

Having been given just 25 minutes of game time at the World Cup, when she came on as a substitute against Canada, Barrett might have more reason that most to feel aggrieved with Pauw, but while believing it was the right time for a change in management, she salutes the Dutch woman for her contribution to the story of Irish women’s football.

“Regardless of anything, Vera will always be the manager who got us to our first ever major tournament – and that is something that will never be forgotten. Our parting didn’t end in the most positive of lights, but I think everybody is grateful to her for how she brought us on through over the years.

“We had a very simple game plan, Vera had simple principles, the focus was on being defensively sound and hard to beat. At the end, teams knew how we were going to play, so maybe we just needed to change something. Apart from anything, look at how some of our players have grown over the years, like Katie and the likes of Heather Payne. So maybe it was time to be more ambitious considering the talent we have.”

After being dropped by interim manager Eileen Gleeson from the Irish squad in November, having been a fixture in it since her senior debut in 2017, Barrett would have been forgiven for asking Bobby for a consoling hug after Gleeson was appointed as Pauw’s permanent successor in December.

“Honestly, I didn’t feel that way. I was quite surprised because Eileen had been very vocal about not being interested in the job, but she has worked hard for this opportunity over the years. If she had told me that she was never going to pick me again, of course that would be in my head. But that’s not the case. She just said that I haven’t been at the same level as the other players, so you take that on the chin and dig deeper to make it hard to leave you out next time.

“It hurt. Of course it did. It was massively disappointing. There’s nothing I want more than to play for Ireland, the best experience in the world is to be involved with the national team. And that’s what I’ll work towards in 2024.

“I’m really enjoying my life in Belgium, the club looks after me so well, and I scored a good few goals in the weeks before Christmas, so that got my confidence back up. And I’ll always believe I’ll score goals. I believe in myself.

“Through the tough times, you can fall in to a pit a little bit, but I’ve tried to keep myself pushing on. One thing I’ve learned is that football is not the only way for me being content and happy. And it took a while to learn that. It’s not because I don’t care – I do – but there’s no point dwelling on your disappointments, it won’t get you anywhere, let them go. I have great supportive friends and family around me who always keep an eye on me, and if I’m struggling I’m not afraid to speak to someone professionally. You don’t want to fall too deep in to the lows, there are places you don’t want to go.

“It was a challenging year. Not to take away from anybody else’s struggles, but I think I’d one of the most difficult years. I was lucky, though, I got some minutes at the World Cup, others didn’t, so I’ll always be grateful for that.”

The toughest part of 2023? “Probably being on The Late Late Show back in March,” she laughs. “It was more nerve-racking than the last 15 minutes in Hampden.

“But, yeah, it was a tough year, but you live and learn. I’m happy, I’m loving life in Belgium – and there’s never a dull moment living with Claire O’Riordan. We’ve made housewives of each other. Life’s good. I wouldn’t change anything. And, yeah, there’s always Bobby.”

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