Amber Barrett says she feels like “one of the luckiest people in the world” right now as she continues to embrace life as a full-time footballer at FC Koln in Germany.
The 25-year-old made the move from Peamount United in June 2019. In many ways, she’s been unlucky.
Her form has been consistently good, but despite Barrett shining for her new club they could not avoid the drop from the Frauen-Bundesliga last May. At the same time there was the small matter of a global pandemic to contend with.
Barrett is aiming to fire FC Koln back to the top flight when league action resumes on 21 March and though the pandemic has prevented her from really experiencing what the city of Cologne has to offer, the Republic of Ireland attacker is not complaining.
Having also played inter-county football for Donegal, Barrett has sympathy for the GAA stars who aren’t even allowed to train right now since the games are not covered under the current Level 5 exemptions for elite sports in Ireland. She’s counting her blessings.
“I’ve been very lucky,” she said at the launch of the Spar FAI School Zone, a new digital learning initiative for teachers and parents.
“I’ve been able to train and play and I know how much of an outlet it’s been for me. I know when I compare the period last year doing the lockdown in Germany with no training to doing it with training, how mentally it’s so beneficial.
“The elite status, the way it’s been in Ireland, has at times been confusing in terms of who gets it and who doesn’t get it. I think it’s your own perception about it in terms of what exactly is elite but I know from playing county for the amount of time I did that those girls are amateur, yes, but they are elite athletes.
“They are dedicated day in day out to making themselves available for selection and to prepare.”
Ireland received a welcome boost last month when manager Vera Pauw signed a new contract to ensure she will lead the side into the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup qualification campaign.
Having fallen painfully short in the Euros qualifiers, Barrett said Pauw’s commitment was exactly the news they all needed.
“It certainly was a boost for us. Speaking to Vera, she said straight away that she always had it in her heart to make the decision to say on. For us going forward its great for us to have that familiarity of the coach and her back-room team as well. It’s definitely going to bring us from strength to strength going into the next campaign.
“We just have to use every little bit of hardship and every disappointment and bring that into the next campaign. I think most of the girls would agree the last campaign was the most disappointing that we’ve had over the lats number of years. We started off so well and were in such a good position.
“One of the first things Vera said to us after the Germany game was, ‘remember this feeling, this is not going to happen to us again’. Having that message is really important going forward.”
Barrett has often been edged out of the national side by Rianna Jarrett, Pauw’s preferred attacking focal point. The pair have both benefited from moving to professional set-ups having first excelled in the Women’s National League and Barrett was honest in her assessment of where she is right now in terms of her development.
“The fact of the matter is, probably for the majority of the campaign Rianna was training better than I was. To get in to the starting 11 for the international team is a much more difficult task than getting into a club team. The window you’re a training is so small. It’s such a short opportunity to get in.
“I always speak with Vera and ask her what I need to do. She’s always very clear with everybody, she informs them what they can work on and improve on. I just have to be better. It’s something I’m always working towards.
“Looking at Rianna and seeing how much work she puts in, it’s absolutely brilliant to see her doing so well. For Ireland when Rianna is playing well the likelihood is we’re going to win games because she’s going to put the ball in the net.”
As for life in Germany, Barrett is appreciating the little things.
“The biggest thing for me is the public transport arrives on time!” she laughed.
“In Ireland it never happens. When the bus is at half ten, you have to be there before half ten or you won’t be getting on it. There’s still a lockdown here but they have started to ease things.
“I haven’t really experienced the full Cologne experience because everything was cut short last year. I’m hoping now when things relax over the next few months I can get to enjoy that side of it as well.
“The Germans are extremely efficient in want they do, there always seems to be a clear plan. When I speak to my parents about home, I think it’s easier here in terms of a lockdown that it is back home.
“I’m with Cologne until the end of the season. There’s still a part of me that wants to get back to the [top flight], that’s the goal for the team. I’m not sitting here saying I want to leave and I’m not sitting here saying I’m definitely going to stay because I don’t know. Those are conversations for the next few months.
“I’m very lucky that there’s players on my team who’ve won the Champions League with Frankfurt, they’ve won German leagues, the German cup. Seeing how put themselves about in training, how they behave, how they act, the little extra bits they do, it’s made me aware of things I need to get better at.
“The fitness levels here are elite. You’re running and running and running. Being exposed to that level of training helps when you go into games. You’re prepared.”