Amber Barrett is an Irish international footballer with over 30 appearances for the national team. In 2019, she joined 1. FC Köln from Peamount in Ireland, and there she continued to impress. She played a crucial role in Effzeh’s promotion to the Frauenbundesliga and contributed greatly to them remaining in the top flight of German football.
A Donegal native, she starred in the Irish Women’s National League where she won Player of the Season and finished Top Scorer three times. She starred in Gaelic Football for Donegal and faced the difficult choice between county and country before opting for the latter.
Unfortunately, primarily due to Covid lockdowns and measures, we could not get Amber to the Celts for a training session but we are more than hopeful for the future. However, she was kind enough to chat with us during an Ireland team camp in Turkey before their important World Cup Qualifier against Georgia.
Here is the full recording of our chat with Amber:
So, Amber, thanks for joining us today. Can you tell us a bit about yourself? Can you introduce yourself?
My name is Amber Barrett. I am a professional footballer. Unfortunately, formerly of 1. FC Köln in Germany. I am a current player with the Irish women’s international soccer team. I am 26. That’s the best description I can give you.
So you grew up in Milford, Donegal?
Yeah, I grew up in Donegal, in Milford. So it’s my go-to spot when I return home for my breaks.
You played a lot of Gaelic football growing up as well?
Yeah, I did I played a lot of Gaelic football. I actually didn’t stop playing Gaelic football until I was 21, so I’m 26 now, it’s not that long ago. I played it all the way up. I come from a very big GAA family. So I suppose I didn’t really have any choice in starting to play.
What did you play more of growing up Gaelic or soccer/football?
I actually did a lot of athletics growing up. So probably more athletics but then going into my teenage years, later on, then it was probably more Gaelic because I got involved with the Donegal team. When I started to do well at football and got on the radar of the international team, that is probably when I really started to focus on soccer.
Yeah. How hard was it to choose between the two? Between playing football for Donegal and playing soccer for Peamount and Ireland?
Yeah. Obviously, it was very difficult for me because, as you would know, Oisín, when you’re playing GAA, your GAA club/county is your community, it’s your local team. It’s the people you grew up with and who you went to school with.
I had played with Donegal since I was 16, and their ambitions going forward was All Ireland finals and Ulster titles. That was something I was really hoping to get involved with. But then it came about when the international manager at the time Colin Bell comes and says, I’ll take you on board with us if you give up Gaelic.
When it comes to the question of country or county, I think that „country“ will always win.
Yeah. It is a nice choice to have though between county and country.
Yeah, I think so as well.
Cool. I saw that your dad and your brothers are big influences. You said you came from a strong GAA background. How big an influence were they on your career and on your sporting life?
So when I was growing up, my dad was involved with the local GAA team. My brothers both played and then as we got older my dad started getting involved with underage Donegal teams and my older brother (Luke Barrett) now is the current Donegal minor manager. So you’re coming from people who are very heavily involved in Donegal GAA as well.
It wasn’t that they tried to persuade me in any way, but I don’t think the decision to focus on soccer went down too lightly with them.
How did the move to Peamount happen?
I ended up going to college in Maynooth and the college had a relationship with Peamount at the time. They would advise and support players that wanted to join the National League. So I went to college in Maynooth and then signed for Peamount and initially that was my plan when I went down. I was going to go on down on a soccer scholarship and then I was going to hopefully get involved with the Women’s National League in Ireland and basically, that’s what I was able to do.
Frankly, that helped me to get involved with several different teams. When you’re playing in the National League, obviously then that’s the league where they’re really kind of taking a look at promising players as well.
How was your time in Maynooth? You’d moved away from family to move down the country and all that. How was your time there?
Honestly, I think my time in Maynooth was probably the best three years of my life. Between the football but also between the overall concepts of football down there.
When I went there initially it wasn’t taken as seriously in the college’s football department, but by the time I left, they were probably one of the most successful teams. That happened over a three-year period with really good sponsorship funding from the fellow who was involved, Barry Prenderville.
I think when the women were given the opportunity with good sponsorship, we had all the access that the boys had – access to the pitches, the physios and everything. I think that makes a big difference.
„To say I instantly fell in love with Cologne is an understatement.“Amber describing the Domstadt
I’m a very motivated person. So I wasn’t going down on my scholarship to kind of mess around during the week. I was really determined and when I saw that there were really good players there that motivated me. I think then everybody was on board with it.
Fantastic. At Peamount, you had major success. You were the top scorer three times in a row and you won the cup, I think.
We won the league cup down in Wexford. Yes. That was the only trophy I actually won in Peamount, and I was there for five years.
They seemed to wait until I left to win all the trophies, so that’s still something that sticks with me. But my time at Peamount was brilliant. It was great to be involved with it.
When I left, that was when the final pieces had just been put together and thankfully, the year I left, they went on to win the league. So I still got my league title there as well but because I left halfway through the season, I didn’t count it as a „full win“.
But you still have the league medal in your pocket.
I’m still yet to get the league medal, but I’m told they have it for me anyway.
Normally Irish players don’t generally go to Germany – men or women. So how did the move to 1. FC Köln come about?
So my international manager at the time, Colin Bell, I think had previously worked with or worked in opposition to Billy Brower, who was the coach of the women’s team at the time when I went, and he basically got in touch with them and said, look, I potentially have a striker here for you. Would you be interested?
Cologne had just got promoted back up to the Bundesliga, and I think they were heavily recruiting at the time. I went over to Cologne with Colin, where I met Philly, I met Nicole and I saw the facilities.
To say I instantly fell in love with Cologne is an understatement. If I was ever going to leave Peamount, Cologne was the best place to go because it felt a bit like Peamount. Peamount was very family orientated. You looked after your own, you did everything you could for the club to make it better when you left. And that was the same idea I got with Cologne and not just the club, but the city as well. Everybody’s in that boat as well.
What was the biggest culture shock you had moving to Germany?
I think the Germans were a little bit slow to catch the sarcasm. That was a big thing for me because I’m a very sarcastic person. I think a few of my jokes fell flat and they didn’t go down too well to start.
But I would say the most difficult thing was definitely the language. I think I had done a little bit of German and primary school and bar counting to ten I could not really offer you major anything, really, that would have helped me in general conversation. I think even after three years, I definitely have come a long way, but I still think I could have made a little bit more progress.
The first year was difficult with Covid and everything. I think that made everything difficult for everybody. I would say in terms of culture, I think the language would have been the biggest thing but Cologne is a great city. Anybody can fit in in Cologne.
Yeah, definitely. I guess from our own team’s experience, we have players from lots of different countries. Cologne is just a very welcoming city, I think, for people. How was communicating on the pitch? So if you didn’t have much German or how was that for you?
Yeah, well, I think the general football directions, you can pick up really quickly, like „rechts, links, vorne, zurück“. The important instructions of when to press and when to drop off and when you should shoot or pass, I think those things you can pick up as you go.
Football is quite universal anyway, so you know what somebody’s saying to you anyway, if you are clued into things, that just takes over. Like, even now, being away with Ireland, there’s sometimes I would nearly think in the German words when I’m training because you’re so used to them every single day telling people to go left and right and up and down or whatever.
„…Even now, being away with Ireland, there’s sometimes I would nearly think in the German words when I’m training „Amber getting used to training and playing in German.
I haven’t said it to anybody here, but in my head, I still think with German words in certain football circumstances, which I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.
Yeah, fair enough. I can see how it could easily happen. So how is the standard of football in Germany compared to Ireland? What are the biggest differences that you noticed?
I suppose the biggest differences for me revolve around going from being an amateur player that was training two to three max sessions a week in Ireland, Tuesday, Thursday, and then we play a game on a Saturday.
When I came to Germany, the other girls would say, „where did you come from?“ And I said Ireland and they said, how was your professional set up and I would say I was amateur. They’d ask about the training schedule, and I would say two times a week. And they were just completely shocked because even the Bundesliga 2 teams and even the Regionalliga teams in Germany would train three, four times a week at least. I think that’s what most of the players are used to over there.
Obviously, you take care of your fitness as best you can, but going from twice a week training to nearly eight times a week, plus gym sessions and games and friendlies and double sessions, it was just such a heavy load.
I was told when I was going over there, that I might take a little dip after preseason as fatigue and everything creeps in, which is absolutely true – it is normal for every player. But I definitely think it hit me a little bit.
I didn’t expect it to hit me for as long as it did. It took me a couple of months to shake it, but as soon as you get over that, then your body just adapts really quickly and then suddenly you’re up to speed with everything and you wouldn’t even think back to the times when you weren’t able to keep it up.
That’s a huge difference. Going from twice a week to eight times a week! So you said you lived in Germany during COVID made it difficult to learn the language, but how was it generally for you living in Germany while the whole thing was going on?
To be honest with you, I think it’s the most difficult thing I’ve done. For anybody to have gone through Covid, to have come through the other side, I think everybody’s got that little bit of extra resilience. They might not think that they have it, but I think you cannot live through a pandemic and have the isolation of friends and family and then not have strengthened yourself a little bit from it. I definitely think for me, it’s definitely one of the most difficult things I’ve done.
I think the only real saving grace from it was the weather. We were so lucky with the weather, how good it was, whereas I think if I was looking at bad weather, that could have been a completely different story. That would have affected my mood and everything.
I was lucky with 1. FC Köln, where we had a training plan to follow and this had to be sent to the coach every day, so it’s not like I could have gone away lying in my bed for six weeks and doing nothing every day. I had a reason to get up, you had a run to do, you had to work out to do, get exercises to do, and I think that was another really important factor of it.
And now I wouldn’t want to go back and do those nine weeks again, but at the same time, I’m glad I got to experience it in that way because I think eventually it will stand to me in the long run.
The Women’s Bundesliga was out for nine weeks, though, or how long was it gone for?
Probably from when we stopped training to the start of training again was probably about nine weeks, and I think we had about two to three weeks of training and then we were straight back into games then. But we had to play, I think, something like eleven or twelve games in six weeks. It was an outrageous amount of games in such a short space of time.
„…Going from twice a week training to nearly eight times a week, plus gym sessions and games and friendlies and double sessions, it was just such a heavy load. „Amber describing the move from amateur to professional football.
Again, we managed it, thankfully, and got through it, but it was very like that. Getting home last summer was, I suppose, the mental fatigue and physical fatigue that you have for everything, which just could be quite overwhelming at times. But again, like I said, it was the same for everybody, not just me.
Yeah. So what was the highlight of your time playing for 1. FC Köln?
There are a lot of them.
I think coming from, as I said earlier, a GAA family, I think one of the things I’ve learned is that anytime I’ve played for a club, whether it be have been Peamount, Cologne, or even with Ireland, I feel the same sense of pride for the jersey that I would have had playing for my local GAA team. I feel like when I moved to Cologne, I think them putting their trust in me to give me my first professional opportunity is something I’ll never forget.
In terms of highlights, I think any game that in the Franz Krämer, when there was a good crowd, probably more so Post-Covid when there were really good crowds and just the roar. I think that there was just a feeling of belonging, and I felt like I was really part of the team. I felt like I was a very important personality in the team, which is really nice as well. All the goals against Leverkusen were also really special as well.
Nice, brilliant. And of course, you’re an Irish international as well. So what has been the highlight of your international career?
Well, we’re in the middle of a World Cup qualifying campaign. I think the highlight will be qualifying for the World Cup.
Then honestly, a lot of people will say this, but I think anytime I’ve got that opportunity to wear the Irish jersey in a game, I just can’t talk about how brilliant it is because it defies words and description a lot of the time. It’s something that is just… I know how lucky I am, and I never take that for granted in any way. I always try my best to make sure that even out of season, I’m trying my best to make sure that I’m ready for international camps and everything.
I think I’m very lucky in my life because I’m part of a very special group of very talented players. There’s been huge progress with the women’s team even since I’ve been a part of it.
This is my fifth year here. And you can just see the shift of everything, the attention from media and journalists, the attention from people at home, people that ten years ago would never in a million years look at the women’s game, and now they’re ringing you about tickets and different things, wanting to be there, wanting to bring their kids, they want their little girls to train with the local girls‘ team.
For me, the most important thing about the Irish team now is that as much as the off-field developments are fantastic, we have to make sure that on-the-field, we’re as focused to develop it as long as we can as well. Qualifying for the World Cup, although again, not getting ahead of ourselves in any way, I think qualifying for the World Cup would really take this Irish team to the next level in terms of what it would do for the younger generation. And the next 15/20 years of Irish women’s football would just, I think, really kick off with that success.
Yeah, absolutely. There’s nothing the Irish love more than a success story or a team to follow. I think if you qualify, and you can get there, it would be enormous. It would just do so much good for it.
Cool. The last question I have is a GAA question.
Did you ever play any camogie growing up? I know Donegal wouldn’t have been a stronghold, but did you play it at any time? (Apologies to Lea as this was the question she wanted to ask!)
No, I never would have played camogie growing up. I do have a hurl at home and I have a sliotar and a tennis ball that I use in the summer. My brother and I go out and knock a few balls about, but I don’t think I’ll be wearing a skort anytime soon.
Lea: Oh no that would have been my question as well, because in Cologne, with the German girls especially, a lot more of them favour playing camogie over Gaelic football. So it’s super popular here.
So camogie would be more of a thing in Cologne?
We’re an unusual club, I think, in that hurling and camogie dominate more than Gaelic Football at the moment. But that can always change.
Both are fantastic field sports.
Absolutely. Okay, so I think that’s everything that I have for tonight. Yeah, that’s all my questions. Lea, do you have anything else?
Lea: The camogie would have interested me, but all right. It was really nice to hear all your words, all your answers and about your experiences. So thank you very much for that.
You’re more than welcome. And I do apologize, over the course of my time in Cologne, I didn’t get a chance to come down to one of the training sessions, just with training times, and everything clashed. But I will 100% be back in Cologne, I would say, before Christmas, and I will make it a priority to let you know and would love to go down, even for a couple of hours.
You’re more than welcome. We will definitely organize something for you then. That’d be brilliant.
From all of us at the Cologne Celtics, we are delighted that Amber took the time out of her schedule to chat with us – it is much appreciated!
We wish her the best of luck with her future endeavours away from the Domstadt. She is always welcome to join us for training; we hope to see that happen soon!
Photos provided by Amber Barrett.