She said, ‘Football is not for girls’

Rianna Jarrett has played in a World Cup and a European Championship final for at underage level, now she looks forward to Ireland being represented in senior tournaments.

Rianna Jarrett has played in the Women’s Super League with Brighton.

Now in her second season with London City Lionesses, the 28-year-old striker believes the team that finished second in the Women’s Championship last season can go one better this time around and secure promotion to the WSL.

Rianna told The Irish World: “Our goal this year is to finish champions and get promoted.

“We need to show a little bit more hunger at times.

“Sometimes you just have to win the games dirty.

“I think what we need to build on is being more consistent.

“We showed that we can play football, we showed that we put it up to Liverpool in the two games we played so we’re looking at being more consistent and more dominant in the games.”

Like everyone involved in the sport, Rianna was delighted to see the Women’s European Championships really capture the imagination in the summer.

“It was a great summer of football.

“I got to go to a few games.

“There was grown men that were crying, you’ve got the older generation and then you’ve got kids running around.

“I think it’s just great what the English team have done this summer, they’ve brought everybody on board.

“You can see that spilling into the domestic leagues.

“I think there has been more season tickets sold for women’s teams than there’s ever been.

“Hopefully that can continue.”

Republic of Ireland could have been at the recent tournament just narrowly missing out after losing 0-1 away to Ukraine.

“I felt that we threw it away against Ukraine that day.

“That hurt.

“We’ve carried that with us but we’ve learned from it.

“We haven’t dwelled on it, we haven’t let it hinder us.

“I think you can see the growth from the squad in the last kind of 12, 24 months has been unbelievable.

“I’ve no doubt that we can bring that confidence, that kind of momentum that we’ve been building into the Finland game now.

“Hopefully we can make the World Cup next summer.”

Obviously Rianna was speaking before Republic of Ireland secured qualification for the World Cup next year. She would be proved right on this and you can bet she will be staking a claim to go to Australia/ New Zealand.

Many of England’s victorious Lionesses have been telling tales of how they started playing football, many by first playing on boys’ teams.

Rianna’s story is similar as she began playing at a young age joining North End United boys’ team in Wexford alongside her twin brother Jordan and cousin Robin.

“I think we were about six, maybe seven at the time and mum obviously brought my brother up to play.

“I was watching.

“I think I pestered her until the next training session.

“I was like, ‘Please can I play? Please can I play?’ And she hates me saying it but back then she did turn around and she said, ‘Football is not for girls’.

“And I think she’s regretted those words ever since.

“To be fair, she let me join and I absolutely loved every minute of it.

“I played with the boys first.

“It was kind of sad for me then when I was told I couldn’t play with the boys anymore.

“From then I just remember playing on the street with the boys every day after school.

“I would go in, get changed and be back out again.

“And I think it’s definitely stood to me.”

As passionate as she was, was it hard to see a future in football? “Yeah, definitely.

“It wasn’t until I seen other players on the Irish team not only going pro, but staying pro and keep doing it for a number of years.

“So when you have seen the likes of Denise O’Sullivan going to America, the likes of Louise Quinn moving from Sweden to England, Katie McCabe become established in the Arsenal set up.

“But definitely when I was younger, it wasn’t anything that I thought was achievable.”

Rianna was a member of the Republic of Ireland Under-17 squad who were runners-up in the 2010 UEFA Women’s Under-17 Championship and quarter-finalists in the 2010 FIFA Under-17 Women’s World Cup.

“We made it to the European final and we were unlucky.

“We got beaten on penalties by Spain.

“But by making it to the final, we then qualified for the World Cup.

“We’re still the only Irish underage team to do so.

“And it was an unbelievable experience, fond memories that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.”

But Rianna admits that European final defeat was hard to take as she missed a penalty in that shoot-out. Although she cried with disappointment and avoided penalties for a time afterwards, she is now London City Lionesses’ penalty taker and dispatched two for the team last year.

“Missing out on a penalty shoot-out, I don’t think I’d ever cried like it.

“I actually was one of the girls that missed a penalty and I think that travelled with me for a little while.

“I don’t think I took the penalty for…

“I never took a penalty after that until my first year of college in IT Carlow.

“We were playing on the representative squad for Leinster, we got a penalty in the first half and somebody missed.

“At half-time I remember Seana Cooke giving out to me saying that I’m the striker, that I should be taking them.

“The second half we get a penalty. I step up, I score it and I think I’ve been fine with penalties ever since so I just needed someone to give me a little bit of a push.

“That summer was unbelievable.

“We then went to the World Cup in Trinidad and Tobago, and we lost out in the quarter-final against Japan and they were given a penalty that was never a penalty.

“To this day, we still say it was never a penalty.

“To be so close to a semi-final and to be done by a referee’s decision was difficult but it was a great team to be part of.

“It was great success for us at the time and hopefully the senior team can start to see those heights and start to reach those major tournaments because we’ve definitely got the talent in the country.

“I think we’re starting to show more consistency. We’re not only putting it up to the bigger nations but we are taking points from them and I do think that it is a great time for Irish women’s football and hopefully we can just continue to grow and grow.”

Around the same time she played for Ireland in a World Cup, Rianna could have also played in an All- Ireland final for Wexford. After helping her team get there, she could not play as it would jeopardise her World Cup adventure.

“I did play county GAA for Wexford Under-16s and we did make an All-Ireland final.

“But the final was two weeks before the World Cup and we were warned that if we played any other sport that we wouldn’t be going.

“So I actually didn’t tog out for the All-Ireland final.

“I didn’t even bring my gear because I knew if I brought my gear that I’d only want to go on.

“We lost to Mayo and Sarah Rowe absolutely ran the show that day.

“I just remember my manager looking at me at half-time as if to say, ‘Please…’

“I was like, ‘I just can’t’.”

She would soon be on a team with Sarah Rowe who would play soccer for Republic of Ireland underage and senior.

“We played underage together two years after that and it was funny.

“We actually often spoke about that as well.”

Rianna has 16 Republic of Ireland caps and scored her first goal  for the team in the last qualifying campaign when she scored one and made the other two goals in Republic of Ireland’s 3-2 home win over Ukraine, a result that put them in a strong position even if the campaign wouldn’t end with success.

Is that her best game for Republic of Ireland to date? “Oh yeah, without a doubt.

“It was a very important game in the group.

“We put ourselves in a great position after that win.

“I had all my family, all my friends in the crowd that day.

“And I think scoring my first goal, setting up the other two, the fact that we got three points, and I got Player of the Match is definitely a night that I’ll never forget.

“It was just a shame that come the end of that campaign that we couldn’t get the job done, that we couldn’t quite get over the line.

“But hoping to have some more great nights in an Irish jersey.”

Rianna had to sit out the second half of last season due to injury and is still working her way back to match fitness.

Injuries are nothing new to her as she tore her ACL three times. She says between the ages of 18 and 23 she spent more time on the side lines than she did playing.

Having spent enough time out of the action, she wants to get back as soon as possible for both the Lionesses and Ireland.

“Obviously the goal is to get back into an Irish jersey but it’s a long way away at the minute.

“It’s just important that I get back on the pitch, stay on the pitch and perform consistently.

“I’m excited for this season.”