Irish International Niamh Fahey from Killannin is hopeful Ireland can continue their good run of form in the World Cup Qualifiers. The side are unbeaten thus far having recorded consecutive 2-0 victories over Slovakia and Northern Ireland as well as holding group leaders Holland to a goalless draw. Fahey’s defensive attributes have contributed to three clean sheets for Colin Bell’s side, and goal difference is all that separates Ireland from the Dutch. The World Cup will be held in France in 2019.
On meeting with Niamh Fahey in the Lakes Hotel, Oughterard, she apologised for being late stating that she had been running and simply lost track of time. This exemplifies Fahey’s commitment to the cause of World Cup qualification, a commitment that led to her wearing the captain’s armband in Ireland’s 2015 Istrian cup encounter with Slovakia.
Fahey’s underage career began with Moycullen Boys. When I asked her if she was the best player in the squad, she stated simply that she wasn’t. She did acknowledge that she was part of a strong team in which she felt she held her own with the likes of Vinny Faherty who would later go on to play for Galway United.
Fahey meanwhile went on to join the Salthill Devon women’s team where she began to make a name for herself. In due course, she broke into the Irish U-17 and U-19 teams. In 2007, she won the WFAI Senior Cup with Galway beating Raheny Rovers in the final. That same year, she also made her debut with the Irish Senior side in a 1-1 draw with Portugal in the Algarve cup.
Having won the Brendan Martin Cup with Galway in 2004, Fahey was now required to commit to either Gaelic football or soccer. The 2005 All-Star chose the latter as she felt she had more room for improvement therein. There was also the opportunity to represent her country, an opportunity she grabbed with both hands.
In 2007, Fahey was granted an unexpected opportunity. The UEFA Women’s Cup champions, Arsenal, would face off against the Irish Senior Women’s team as part of their celebratory tour. Having impressed the Arsenal management with her display at centre-back in the 1-1 draw, Fahey and boxing world champion and Olympic Gold medallist Katie Taylor were given the chance to play for the North Londoners where fellow Irish internationals Yvonne Tracy and Emma Byrne were already plying their trade.
As we now know, Taylor’s fate lay elsewhere but for Fahey, it was the break she had been dreaming for as long as she could remember. She duly transferred to Hertfordshire University to complete her studies in pharmacology and put pen to paper in August 2008.
In her debut season she made 18 appearances and helped the Gunners win a domestic treble. Arsenal went on to win three consecutive league titles and four FA cups in Fahey’s six year spell at the club but a coveted UEFA Champions League winners medal was destined to elude her. Defeats were inflicted by Eintreacht Frankfurt at the semi-final stage as well as by Europe’s most dominant force Olympique Lyon.
In December 2014, Fahey made her dream of becoming a professional soccer player a reality by heading south of the river Thames to sign for Chelsea football club. In her first season, her central defensive partnership alongside Gilly Flaherty leaked just 10 goals in Chelsea’s first ever League and FA Cup double, her fourth league title and fifth FA cup title in all. The Blues were the only side to be managed by a female.
Manager Emma Hayes alluded to Niamh and Gilly’s defensive attributes as being a “key factor” to the club’s most successful season to date. Unfortunately, Fahey would lose her place in the starting line-up due to a series of on and off injuries.
After contemplating numerous options, Fahey chose a change of scenery in Bordeaux. Despite the language barrier, Fahey is enjoying life in the French league and is full of admiration for the technical abilities of French league players. She feels that their style of play suits her as she enjoys the creative part of the game as well as the more tactical elements.
As a youngster Fahey’s main role models were Sonia O Sullivan, Peter Canavan and Robbie Fowler just to name a few. When I quizzed her on what advice she would give to young aspiring athletes looking to become professional, Fahey said that she would encourage them to “train really hard”.
“There’s nothing you can’t achieve when you just really focus on it,” she said.
Fahey believes that application is the key to unlocking one’s true potential. Having suffered an ACL injury in 2013, Fahey states that she learned the importance of being grateful to play every game as it came, win or lose. She said the injury put everything else into perspective.
“At the end of the day, it’s just a game,” she concluded.
2018 is an exciting year for the three time international player of the season and WSL team of the year member. Despite admitting that she would one day love a return to LGFA with her local club, Killannin, she will continue to pursue her career in soccer as long as her body will allow her. Her number one goal for the season ahead is to help Ireland fight to make it to their first ever World Cup.
In the wider scheme of things, a lot of inspiration can be taken from Niamh’s incredible journey. She has proven that despite living in a rural region like Connemara, one can go from playing in the blue of Killannin to the blue of Chelsea in front of over 30,000 people at the first WFA Cup Final ever to be held at Wembley, the highlight of her soccer career and second only to Galway’s championship triumph in 2004. Fahey is living proof that if you “train really hard” there is “nothing you can’t achieve”.
By Luke Gannon
Photo credit Dawn Huczek