From international wilderness to Ireland women’s player of the year
By Damian Dolan
It’s been quite a year for Harriet Scott. Brought in from the international wilderness by Republic of Ireland Women manager Colin Bell this time last year, the Reading player was last month named FAI Senior Women’s International Player of the Year.
The intervening 12 months saw her make her senior debut, help Ireland make a strong start to their World Cup qualifying bid, including an eye-catching draw away to European champions the Netherlands, and establish herself in Bell’s starting line up with her tenacious performances at left back.
After seven years out of international football, having previously represented Ireland at Under 17, it’s been a ‘whirlwind year’ for the Berkshire-born defender.
“It’s been great; getting back in was all I could have hoped for,” Scott told the Irish World.
“I did not expect it at all. I’d been out of the set-up for such a long time, I was just grateful to be around it and enjoying the international scene again.
I cannot quite put into words how proud I am to be named Senior Women’s International Player of the Year. I’m honoured to wear the jersey and couldn’t ask for a better team to experience it with. Excited to see what the next year brings 😘🇮🇪 @FAIreland #FAIAwards pic.twitter.com/fwVUd8p0la
— Harriet Scott (@HarrietAScott) March 19, 2018
“To have been fortunate enough to have played in every single game has been amazing. It’s been a whirlwind. I couldn’t be happier.”
Very much back in the fold, the 25-year-old has now set her sights on helping Ireland’s senior women’s team reach the finals of a major tournament for the first time.
“When Colin came in that’s the first thing he said, he wants to qualify for a tournament. Everyone wants to do it. It’s a massive incentive and it’s what we’re aiming for,” she said.
Colin Bell’s Republic of Ireland Women side will look to build on their good start to Group 3 when they continue their qualifying campaign against Slovakia on Friday at Tallaght Stadium. Then on April 10 it’s the much-anticipated rematch with Netherlands.
It’s a crucial few days which could make or break Ireland’s hopes, but one they’ll have to face without their player of the year, Harriet Scott.
A broken collarbone picked up in Reading’s 1-0 FA Cup defeat to Birmingham in February ruled Scott out. And although she returned to training this week with her club, Ireland’s qualifiers came just too soon.
“I was running and was either pulled or pushed off balance and fell very awkwardly and fractured my collarbone in three places,” said Scott, who needed a titanium plate and six screws inserted into her collarbone.
“It was a real shame that it happened and that it affected the international campaign. Colin has been very supportive, as have all the girls. It was just back luck.”
Scott, though, has ‘every faith’ that the team can do the business against Slovakia and the Netherlands without her.
That confidence is well-founded. Two-nil wins over Northern Ireland and Slovakia were backed up by a rear-guard action to rival that of Rorke’s Drift, as Ireland earned a battling a 0-0 draw in front of more than 11,000 passionate Dutch supporters in an ‘intimidating’ Nijmegen.
The home side enjoyed 81 percent of the possession and rained down 36 shots on Marie Hourihan’s goal (to Ireland’s three). But the green line held firm to secure a valuable, and historic, point.
“It was a really difficult atmosphere; they had a sold-out stadium and the crowd was electric,” said Scott.
“They showed why they’re European champions – they were fantastic. But we relished the challenge, everyone knew their jobs and what they needed to do. To get the draw was brilliant for us and the result gave everyone so much confidence.”
For someone who loves to defend, Scott was in her element in Nijmegen.
She added: “The excitement is more about making a last-ditch tackle or putting my head somewhere I shouldn’t or making a block. It’s very satisfying.
“I think 90 percent of the team put in one of those blocks or tackles [against the Netherlands]. I think everyone felt how good it feels to do that.
“Colin always says you need to love to attack and you need to love to play, but you need to love to defend as well.”
Scott puts the result and the collective togetherness needed to produce such an extraordinary performance against overwhelming odds down to the team’s Leicester-born manager, Bell, who took over from Sue Ronan in February 2017.
“Everyone always had confidence in Colin, but it just highlighted that. Everyone from the outside world could see he knows what he’s doing. He’s taken a very positive step with us, and hopefully we can continue to do that.”
Scott had previously come to Reading’s attention at a young age, joining the club’s academy after impressing at a trial.
She was 15 when she was one of three Reading players put forward by their coach for the Republic of Ireland, and ended up making the Ireland Under 17 squad for the European Championships and World Cup in 2010.
“For me, it wasn’t really a choice. It was always something I would have chosen,” said Scott, whose mum’s family come from Donegal, and her dad’s from Dublin.
“I was scouted for England, but I chose the Ireland route. I’m much more patriotic towards Ireland, despite the fact that I live in England.”
She made her mark as part of the Ireland Under 17 side which knocked out Germany on their way to reaching the European Championship final. They were only beaten by Spain in the final on penalties.
Later that year the team reached the quarter-finals of the U17 World Cup held in Trinidad and Tobago. Ireland topped a group including Brazil and Canada before losing out to Japan.
“Doing it at senior level is the next step, it’s the next thing I want to achieve. The environment and the experience is something I’d love for all the girls to experience.”
At 18, Scott took a sabbatical from football, however, to concentrate on studying for a degree in physiotherapy at the University of West England in Bristol.
When she graduated, she returned to football and helped Reading win promotion to Women’s Super League One in 2015. She signed professionally for the club in March 2016, which meant leaving her full time job at the Royal Berkshire Hospital as a physiotherapist.
When the call came from Bell last year, Scott admits it was an ‘amazing surprise’.
“It [Ireland] was in the back of my mind, but after a few years you don’t think [about it]. I knew they had good players in the fold, so I just tried to get my head down and concentrate on myself,” said Scott.
“It’s going to be tough. The girls are not thinking that Slovakia’s going to be a walkover….there’s a job to be done,” she said.
“Everyone knows the role they have to play and everyone in the squad is capable of contributing and making a massive impact.
“Arguably Slovakia is more important; we need to get those points and then anything we can get off the Netherlands will be a massive benefit.”
Ireland’s upcoming Fixtures:
April 6: Republic of Ireland v Slovakia, Tallaght Stadium, KO 5pm
April 10: Republic of Ireland v The Netherlands, Tallaght Stadium, KO 7.30pm