David Hennessy talks to Niamh Fahey, the Republic of Ireland international defender about her move to Chelsea Ladies and the growth of the women’s game
“Really enjoying it, really happy,” Galway’s Niamh Fahey tells The Irish World about her move from to Chelsea in December. Niamh, who has more than 50 caps for Republic of Ireland, had been with Arsenal Ladies since 2008, winning many honours in her time there, but was attracted to Chelsea by the chance to play football full-time, after years of juggling sport with her work commitments as a research scientist, and compete in the Champions League.
“The Champions League was huge and just the environment, training full-time every day, that’s something that you couldn’t pass up. That’s massive because you just don’t get the same recovery and stuff like that so it was always a stress on me trying to organise work and holidays and time off so it’s great to not have to worry about that anymore. It was a big move and I’m just really happy here at the minute.”
But none of this is to say it was easy for Niamh to leave the club where she won two Women’s Super Leagues, two FA Women’s Premier Leagues, four FA Women’s Cups, three FA WSL Cups and one FA Women’s Premier League Cup: “It was a tough decision. I was there for six and a half seasons and it was the first big club that I had been to and a lot of my friends are there and there’s a lot of good memories there. It was a tough decision but I think it was the right time to try something new at this stage.”
Niamh faces her former club for the first time on April 30 when Irish international team mate Emma Byrne and Arsenal come to Wheatsheaf Park: “Yeah, we’ll coming to loggerheads pretty soon. It should be interesting.”
Asked what it will be like to be on the opposing team to Byrne who has been her international team mate since 2007 and for club since 2008, Fahey says: “I think it will be strange. There will probably be a lot of messing and banter before the game, I’m sure she’ll try and psyche me out somehow. It will definitely be a weird experience but it’s a game and I never like to lose any game. I’m sure we’ll talk after but probably not during.”
We have recently seen Stephanie Roche shortlisted for the Ballon d’Or while last year Katie Taylor was crowned world champion for the fifth time. Niamh played with Taylor while the Olympic gold medallist was also lining out for Republic of Ireland at both underage and senior level.
Asked if the achievements of Niamh’s current and former international team-mates are creating more interest in women’s sport, she says: “Definitely, there’s been a big drive all around to get more focus on women in sport. There is a lot of interest there and it’s important for young girls and boys to realise growing up that there are people like Stephanie Roche getting nominated alongside Cristiano Ronaldo and James Rodriguez. It’s great, it’s a good time for females in sport in Ireland and there’s a lot more publicity. I still think we can do a lot more at the same time but it’s going in the right direction. it’s all really good at the minute but definitely more can be done and more needs to be done.”
On increasing the profile of the women’s game, Niamh says: “It will take some time because obviously you have to realise it’s not the same as men’s football, there’s different qualities to it. Anyone who is genuinely interested in sport appreciates skill levels and intensity in any competitive fixture.
“I think you have to change mindsets first before people start, ‘oh, female football is crap’ and all this kind of stuff. It takes a bit of change of mindset and maybe getting out of old beliefs of ‘women just aren’t able to play sport’, I don’t know whether there’s still a bit of that hanging around. It’s definitely changing. The interest is there, it just needs a little bit more time to grow.”
Fahey has been named FAI Women’s Senior International Player of the Year on three separate occasions and just last month was in La Manga with Stephanie Roche and the Irish squad as they prepare for their upcoming qualifying campaign for the European Championships in 2017. Although they have reached the highest peaks at club level, players like Niamh Fahey and Emma Byrne have never reached the biggest international stages as Republic of Ireland have never qualified for a World Cup or European Championship.
Fahey believes this is about to change: “That’s one of the top priorities if not the top priority at the minute so we’re really going to be going all guns blazing. We’ve been building now for a couple of years, we’ve blooded a lot of new good young players so we’re feeling confident that we can finally make that final push and get to the finals.
“The quality is there, it’s just about a good run of games now and getting the results and I think we’ll definitely be there or thereabouts this time so really positive.”
For the full interview, see the February 14 Irish World.
Chelsea Ladies begin their league season against Notts County LFC on March 29.
For more information on Chelsea Ladies, go to www.chelseafc.com/teams/chelsea-ladies.html