THE CALL, when it came, took her by surprise, but Germany appealed to Amber Barrett.
Granted, she didn’t speak the language – nine months later, she’s getting by and learning well – and it was a foreign shore.
A full-time chance at FC Köln was a world away from where she was, with Peamount United in the National League, and the line reeled in the Milford woman.
With the world in lockdown, Barrett has time to think of how far she has come as she ponders in her apartment, near to FC Köln’s training ground.
Her minutes have been limited and she must remind herself constantly of where she is and whence she has come.
“It has been a wee bit frustrating, but I knew coming here that I wouldn’t get as much game time in a new environment right away and they made sure to tell me that at the start,” Barrett tells Donegal Daily/Donegal Sport Hub.
“When I came over here, I was told that pre-season would be a wake-up call in terms of what was expected of me. It went really, really well at the start, I settled in quite well and then I hit a dip.
“Maybe it was just that my body was exhausted. It took a while to get out of that. It wasn’t training as well. I had made a big step up. It has been a huge jump. I made really good friends in the team and that was a big help.”
Her grandfather had spent some time working in Germany and the country came with a high recommendation.
The weekly schedule has been ripped apart. At Peamount, she trained twice a week – usually on Tuesdays and Thursdays – and played a game at the weekend.
Now, the timetable is rather busier.
Double sessions on Wednesday and Thursday have been a jolt. Mondays, generally, are recovery or gym, and they play usually at the weekend, when there may be another session depending on the week that’s in it.
She says: “The girls here were shocked at how little we trained back in Ireland.
“One of the players spoke to me very early and said I needed to realise that. She said she saw a big improvement and that was really nice to hear.
“In our most recent camp, I felt I was at 100 per cent. That was brilliant to feel like that. It took a while to get there.”
Barrett was concluding her course in Maynooth, a Masters in Education, when Colin Bell, the now former Reepublic of Ireland manager, checked in about her plans. Bell, who has since been replaced as the Irish manager by Vera Pauw, had been asked by Willie Breuer, who was the FC Köln coach, if he could recommend a striker.
Barrtt’s name came to Bell and the process, without the Donegal woman knowing, had already begun.
She says: “I wanted to go abroad to try it out, but I wanted to get college finished first. As the end of the road came closer in college, Colin asked if it was okay to check out some other coaches to see what was going on.
“I had been sending Colin clips of me playing for Peamount anyway and he passed those on. There was another team in the German League who showed an interest in me, but Cologne is a major city and that was a big reason for coming here. Cologne felt really attractive. It was nice to have a city and have people like that interested.”
Bell’s departure from the international scene stung hard, but Barrett and company have knuckled down. Under Pauw, Ireland are unbeaten and they sit top of Group I in the Euro 2021 qualifiers, albeit with three testing games – two against Germany and one against Ukraine – to come post-lockdown, whenever that may be.
Barrett says: “The team had developed well under Colin. You’re always aware that things can change in football all the time.
“The timing was the worst as it was so close to the new campaign, but everyone was so focussed on the games, we couldn’t get fixated by the manager situation.
“It is difficult to get the head away from these things, but players are so professional and there are a lot of leaders there who made it clear that the goal doesn’t change. It wasn’t ideal, but we didn’t lose sleep or focus.”
In November, Barrett netted a superb goal for Ireland in an away qualifier against Greece. Barrett’s delicious chip over goalkeeper Anthi Papakonstantinou looked to have given the Girls in Green the win, but a last-gasp Anastasia Spyridonidou goal denied them.
“If we had won away from home, it would have been a terrific result,” Barrett says now, four months on.
Her own goal was a relief in more ways than one.
Finally, she could move on from a famous match-winner against Slovakia 18 month previously at Tallaght. There, an 87th minute strike gave Ireland a 2-1 win.
She says: “I was nearly sick to death of hearing about the goal against Slovakia. I didn’t want to be remembered for one goal in one game. As a striker, my job is to score goals. I had to show that I can do that. When you get a chance to play, you have to leave your mark.
“I just want to play and to enjoy the games. The main reason we love playing is that sense of achievement, the adrenaline rush.
“I was the least nervous I’ve ever been before that game in Greece. I hadn’t started a lot of games, but I got my chance in Greece and I felt I did well.”
The journey since Christmas has been frustrating with just two games played and a vast sky of uncertainty as to when play will resume.
“We had two games called off because of bad storms,” Barrett mentions. “Those two times, I was looking out thinking: ‘I’ve played in much worse conditions back in Ireland!”
Breuer has been replaced by former Frankfurt and SC Sand boss, Sascha Glass and Barrett speaks with a real energy about her future at the club.
She says: “Of course, I want to play and there have been a couple of games where I felt that I could have got more. Our new coach bases it all on training, so I’m hoping that will stand to me when we get up and going again.”
From a sporting family that includes the Donegal Under-20 (her dad, Shaun Paul) and Minor (her brother, Luke) managers, she played for the Donegal seniors before her soccer pursuits took over. She follows home closely and stays in touch, though she pines for home a little more on the long days with football at a standstill.
She says: “It’s lockdown here, but not declared a lockdown. I am desperate to get home to see people again. God knows how long I’ll be here.
“A good few of the girls aren’t too far from me, but there are no groups of more than two allowed in public at the one time.
“I don’t mind my own company. FaceTime and Skype keeps me up to date with the family and with what’s happening in Donegal anyway. I’m lucky, I stay in touch regularly.”
The downtime lets her brush up on her German. The language has been her biggest barrier so far, but she’s adjusting well.
“It feels sometimes as if everyone is testing you, to see what you’re about, even though it’s not actually like that at all,” she says.
“A good majority of people here speak English in some way of the other anyway.
“The first couple of weeks in the dressing room were hard. I was sitting there not having a breeze. That can make you feel isolated, but it’s not intentional.
“As soon as you’re understood, you can enjoy and understand the dressing room conversations. I do have a wee bit more work to do and it makes it harder. I have phrases that we use in training but when the coach is giving directions, sometimes I still hesitate and he probably wants it done in a split second.”
On the international scene, recent results, she says have ‘reignited the belief’ in the Irish squad.
“If you said to us that this is where we’d be we’d have taken it with the two hands,” the 24-year-old says.
“We have showed that we can do it. We have a difficult group and have three hard games left. So much can happen in so little games.
“It’s all to play for yet. It will be a very exciting time to be involved, but we also can’t get ahead of ourselves.
“We still have so much left to do.”
And, now, all the time in the world to do it.Tags: