David Hennessy talks to Niamh Fahey, the Irish international who made history recently by becoming the first Irish woman to lift the Women’s FA Cup at Wembley
“It’s kinda crazy really,” Niamh Fahey tells The Irish World of becoming the first Irish female to lift the FA Cup at Wembley on August 1. It was also the first piece of silverware in the history of Chelsea Ladies.
“A bit surreal, it’s unbelievable really. It’s hard to describe what the feeling is like but I’m very proud.”
Republic of Ireland international Niamh played at centre back as Chelsea Ladies overcame Notts County 1-0 to win the first female cup final to be held at Wembley.
30,000 supporters turned out to watch the match decided by So-yun Ji’s 37th minute goal. Chelsea manager Emma Hayes said after the game that she could see no way the team would lose, such motivation was evident. Niamh says: “I got that feeling although we started nervously, I always felt we were really in control of the game and it was only a matter of time before we turned it on and started turning the screw. I didn’t feel like they were ever going to threaten us really so it was going to be our day the way everyone was so focused.
“There was only the one goal but I think we had plenty of chances really to make it more comfortable but we didn’t take them and we held out. They had one or two chances, really deflections that could have gone in but I always felt like we were in control.”
Niamh joined Chelsea in December last year, before this she played with Arsenal since 2008.
Saturday’s triumph was Niamh’s fifth FA Cup medal, winning the trophy in 2009, 2011, 2013 and 2014 with Arsenal. Was it more special with this being held at the iconic home of English football? “Yeah, I think so. Obviously it’s great whenever you win an FA Cup, it’s such a prestigious competition but the fact that it was the first time in Wembley and the first piece of silverware for Chelsea, it just made it all that bit more special.”
Niamh and her team mates have further silverware desires. After the team lost out narrowly last year, Chelsea Ladies are looking to emulate their male counterparts with a title success: “Yeah, there is (a point to prove). I think the girls last year really felt like they let it slip. There’s a lot of pain from last season so we’ll be hoping to put that right although it will be a difficult task. We’re hoping to add the league to the FA Cup.”
The team have already paraded the cup around Stamford Bridge during last week’s friendly between Jose Mourinho’s team and Fiorentina. One member of the men’s team was certainly quick to offer his congratulations. Captain John Terry is Chelsea Ladies Chairman: “He’s always sending best wishes and he’s helping promote the game as well and just a genuinely nice fella.
“He actually rang our manager before the game and just wanted to wish us the best of luck. It’s great to have someone like that backing you and giving you good luck messages and the like.”
Prior to the only goal, it was Niamh who had come closest when she missed the target by getting on the end of a free kick. Asked to imagine scoring at Wembley, Niamh laughs: “I probably would have had to pinch myself had that happened. It’s probably a good thing, I would have been distracted for the rest of the game.
“I’m happy enough with just the winner’s medal at Wembley, to score again some time again hopefully.”
Niamh is also a former GAA star, playing with Galway Ladies and lining out for London’s Parnells in their All-Ireland Intermediate Club Championship-winning year of 2012.
Niamh is a sister of ex-Galway defenders Gary and Richie Fahey, the former captained the Tribesmen to their last All-Ireland success in 2001 and Niamh’s sporting family were at Wembley in support: “I had about 22 people, friends and family, over from Ireland to support me. Mam and dad, all my brothers, nieces, nephews, sisters-in-law, best friends, cousins, the whole gang, they were all there so it was great really. I don’t know how they managed to bring all those kids over but fair play to them, they had a great time.”
Does this mean her family even missed Galway’s footballers who were in All-Ireland action on the same day? “No, they did not,” she says with a laugh. “They had it timed to perfection. They were able to get the game at Wembley and as soon as our game was over, they headed off to some pub in Wembley to watch the footballers, they wouldn’t miss that game.”
Interest in female football has shot up since England’s successful performance at the recent World Cup in Canada. Asked if Republic of Ireland’s women can draw on this new interest, Niamh says: “Hopefully, there’s a lot more exposure out there with Steph Roche and Emma Byrne and all of these high profile players, there’s a lot more media attention so hopefully we can see something similar.
“I watched the World Cup and I was pleased to see England do really well and it helps to grow the game. Our attendances have been up post-World Cup which is good. It only helps promote women’s football and increase it in popularity.
“Obviously we (Republic of Ireland)’ll have to start qualifying for major tournaments first, maybe get some real kind of an impact. That’s our priority really. We need to start being at major championships for us to have that effect in Ireland hopefully.”
Niamh and Republic of Ireland get their qualifying campaign for European Championship 2017 underway next month with a home tie to Finland on Monday September 21.
Can Niamh, a defender herself, sympathise with Laura Bassett whose unlucky own goal eliminated England from the tournament? “Yeah, I felt really sorry for her. It’s an awful thing to happen to any player and especially cruel the way it was in the last minute.
“In fairness, if she didn’t stick a leg at it, it probably would have gone to one of their players anyway and she’s just really unfortunate really that it’s flown in the top corner. It’s one of those freaky things that will never happen again.”
Bassett was captaining Notts County at Wembley.
Niamh’s international team mate Fiona O’Sullivan came off the bench for Notts County on the day: “I had a few commiserations with her, I would be good friends with Fiona through the Irish team and I’ve good time for her so I didn’t want to be jumping and running around too much to be honest because I’m sure she was really disappointed.”